Oregon lawmakers set up group to safeguard abortion rights
The Oregon Legislature will set up a work group to consider budget, legal and service questions that will arise if the U.S. Supreme Court follows through with a decision to overturn or restrict a federal constitutional right to abortion.
Oregon is the only state with no restrictions — the Legislature removed penalties four years before the high court legalized it in 1973 — and lawmakers wrote guarantees of access into state law in 2017.
Voters also have rejected five ballot measures between 1986 and 2018 to ban or restrict abortion or public funding.
House Speaker Dan Rayfield announced the task force on Thursday, May 19.
"Time and again, Oregonians have clearly affirmed their support for making abortion and other care safe and accessible to all," the Democrat from Corvallis said in a statement.
"While other states roll back protections and attempt to criminalize health care access, this collaborative process with providers, clinics and elected leaders will make sure Oregon is prepared to support access to care in this changing landscape. We can't be complacent."
Legislative members are Reps. Travis Nelson of North Portland and Andrea Valderrama of East Portland, and Sens. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward of Beaverton and Kate Lieber of Portland. Nelson is a nurse and Steiner Hayward a physician. All are Democrats; no Republicans voted for the 2017 law guaranteeing access.
A spokesman for Rayfield said other work group members will be drawn from community groups, providers and clinics.
Nelson referred to the leaked draft of an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito that would do away with the 1973 decision.
"We have to prepare for a future in which opponents of reproductive freedom are committed to turning the clock back even further," he said. "It's outrageous and unprecedented, and we will be prepared if these nightmares become reality."
According to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, 23% of Oregon women lived in counties without access to abortion in 2017 — and that access could be reduced further if women in Eastern Oregon cannot turn to medical care in Boise and Meridian, Idaho. Idaho has passed a ban on abortions after six weeks; the law is set to take effect if the Supreme Court bars abortion as a federal right.
"The impact of overturning Roe will be felt largely by Black, Latino and Indigenous people, immigrants, people living with low incomes and people in rural areas," Valderrama said. "Our communities have long faced barriers to abortion access and will be a focal point of this work."
Oregon's other neighbors are likely to support abortion rights, although half of the 50 states are poised to ban or restrict them once the high court acts.
Oregon's 2017 law requires private health insurance plans to cover abortion and other reproductive services — an exception is made for plans offered by religious employers — and provides access to services for low-income women who would otherwise qualify for state-supported health care, except for their immigration status. The Oregon Health Plan already covers abortion for low-income women, but only state funds pay for it, since Congress barred federal funds with some exceptions back in 1976.
The Legislature in its 2022 session added $15 million to expand the capacity of providers and support for patient needs. According to preliminary 2021 figures from the Oregon Health Authority, out-of-state patients accounted for 632 of a total 6,577 abortions.
Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said she stands ready to help lawmakers and the work group.
"I pledge to work alongside our elected champions and community partners to help keep Oregon a safe and welcoming place for anyone from anywhere who seeks access to abortion care," she said.
According to Rayfield, recommendations from the work group may include policy, administrative and budget proposals to protect, strengthen and expand equitable access to all forms of reproductive care, gender-affirming care and quality of care.
Recommendations may also include protections for populations being targeted, including LGBTQ+ children, families and adults; reproductive and gender-affirming care patients and providers; health navigators and assisters; and more. The work group also may evaluate risks and mitigate legislative and legal gaps in the event that the U.S. Supreme Court attempts to overturn other landmark decisions protecting the rights to use of contraceptives and more.
The high court in 1965 struck down a Connecticut ban on contraceptives. Advocates say if the court declines to recognize a right to personal privacy by overturning a federal right to abortion, it could open the way to rulings affecting other rights, including marriage by same-sex couples.
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