If the U.S. Supreme Court ends abortion as a federal constitutional right and returns the issue to the states, abortion rights supporters in Oregon will start with the law on their side.
State lawmakers passed a bill in 2017 that guarantees women access to reproductive health services, including abortion. Though the guarantee is not part of the Oregon Constitution, it makes Oregon one of a handful of states that has specified legal protection for abortion.
Oregon lawmakers removed state penalties for abortion in 1969, four years before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized it in its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade. Since then, lawmakers did try to impose some restrictions. All the attempts were during the eight years that Republicans held majorities in both chambers. But they were turned back.
"Oregon does not have any of the major types of abortion restrictions — such as waiting periods, mandated parental involvement or limitations on publicly funded abortions — often found in other states," the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, reported in January.
Brown: 'Let's not give up'
Kate Brown was a Democratic lawmaker in the 1990s, when Republicans promoted bills to require parental notification before a minor could obtain an abortion. One bill passed the Senate but died in the House in 1995, when several Republicans joined Democrats to reject it. A second attempt passed both chambers in 1999, when Brown was Senate Democratic leader. But then-Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat and a physician, vetoed it, as well as a human services budget that omitted state money for abortions. (The money was restored, and Kitzhaber signed the revised budget.)
Brown as governor signed the 2017 access law, which requires private insurance plans to cover a range of reproductive health services including abortion — there is an exception for religious employers — and sets up a fund for women who would otherwise qualify for state-supported abortions except for their immigration status. The Oregon Health Plan covers them for low-income women, although the money comes entirely from state funds. (A 1976 restriction bars use of federal funds for abortions with some exceptions.)
Brown released a one-minute video statement the day after Politico disclosed a leaked draft of a Supreme Court opinion reversing the 1973 decision. She said:
"Access to abortion is a basic, fundamental right and is protected by state law in Oregon. I will fight to keep it that way, no matter what the U.S. Supreme Court decides.
"But let me be very, very clear: You cannot ban abortion. You can only ban safe abortion. Overturning Roe and jeopardizing access to safe legal abortion is an issue that affects all of us. We cannot and will not let our country take this huge step backward.
"The Supreme Court does not reflect the values of the majority of Americans. Don't lose hope. Let's not give up. Let's fight like hell. People in this country deserve access to fundamental basic health care, including abortion."
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 23% of Oregon women lived in counties without access to abortion in 2017.
The 2017 law passed largely along party lines. No Republicans voted for it; only one Democrat, John Lively of Springfield, voted against it. Among those voting for it were Tina Kotek, then House speaker and current Democratic candidate for governor, and Betsy Johnson, then a Democratic state senator, who is making an independent bid for governor.
Most Republican candidates for governor oppose abortion rights, and one of them, Bridget Barton, acknowledged that it would probably take a Republican governor and Republican legislative majorities to take action. That hasn't happened since the mid-1950s.
"Without legislative approval, clearly nothing" will happen, Barton said during a four-candidate debate sponsored by the City Club of Portland and television station KGW. "As the governor, I would need to have the Legislature act first. As you know, we have super-minorities at this moment."
Lois Anderson, executive director of Oregon Right to Life, said she welcomes the prospect of the Supreme Court returning the issue to the states.
"We welcome the opportunity to craft legislation that reflects Oregon values, supports women, and protects innocent life," she said. "The pro-life movement supports women during and after pregnancy. We will continue to do so."
Voters say no
But Oregon voters have rejected five ballot initiatives over four decades to impose restrictions on abortions:
• In 2018, voters rejected a proposed constitutional ban on public funding of abortions, 65% to 35%.
• In 2006, voters rejected a 48-hour requirement for parental notification and discipline for physicians who perform abortions, 55% to 45%.
• In 1990, voters rejected a proposed constitutional ban on abortions with three exceptions, 68% to 32%. By 52% to 48%, they rejected a parental notice requirement.
• In 1986, voters rejected a proposed constitutional ban on state funding of abortions, with an exception to save the life of the mother, 55% to 45%.
Abortions in Oregon
Recent data as reported by the Oregon Health Authority. 2021 data is preliminary:
Statewide: 6,577. Portland metro area counties: Multnomah, 2,068; Washington, 844; Clackamas, 520. Central Oregon counties: Deschutes, 404; Crook, 46; Jefferson, 36. Marion County, 646. Out of state: 632.
Statewide: 6,991. Portland metro: Multnomah, 2,082; Washington, 827; Clackamas, 549. Central Oregon: Deschutes, 365; Crook, 41; Jefferson, 31. Marion County, 624. Out of state: 672.
Statewide: 8,688. Portland metro: Multnomah, 2,633; Washington, 913; Clackamas, 588. Central Oregon: Deschutes, 400; Jefferson, 37; Crook, 29. Marion County: 701. Out of state: 795.
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