Abortion bombshell rocks political world
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.
Earlier this month, Politico disclosed a leaked draft of a Supreme Court opinion reversing the 1973 decision. It is not known if that draft will be altered or remain as is.
State lawmakers passed a bill in 2017 that guarantees 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. All were turned back.
Democrats control both chambers of the Legislature and the governorship now and have for years.
"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.
The abortion issue has jolted the May 17 primary election, even though it was a non-issue for most candidates until the leaked document.
All four leading Republican candidates for governor voiced their opposition to abortion during the televised April 28 forum hosted by KOIN 6 News and the Pamplin Media Group. One week later, all four Democratic frontrunners at another forum with the same hosts declared their support.
Republican candidate Jessica Gomez, a southern Oregon high-tech entrepreneur, broke party ranks. She told Oregon Public Broadcasting that, if elected, she would not pursue any new restrictions on reproductive health, saying she's firmly pro-choice and stands behind abortion being a constitutionally protected right. She does stand against using Oregon tax dollars to help pregnant people from other states access abortions here, according to OPB.
Another Republican candidate, Bridget Barton, acknowledged at a City Club of Portland forum that it would probably take a Republican governor and Republican legislative majorities to take action. That hasn't happened in Oregon since the mid-1950s.
Oregon's 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.
Gov. Kate Brown is staunchly pro-choice. She released a one-minute video statement the day after Politico's disclosure of the leaked draft. "Access to abortion is a basic, fundamental right and is protected by state law in Oregon," she said. "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."
A 1976 restriction bars use of federal funds for abortions with some exceptions. Oregon began using state funds in 1977.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 23% of Oregon women lived in counties without access to abortion in 2017.
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 those 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. The 2021 Legislature boosted that amount by $15 million.
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."
Terry O'Neill previously served as president of the National Organization of Women until 2017. O'Neill, who now lives in Portland, said she predicts states like Oregon, Washington, California and Illinois will become "refuge states" for those seeking an abortion who live in states that prohibit it.
"There are states that will be sort of refuge states for women and anyone who can get pregnant to obtain abortions," O'Neill predicted. "That is going to be met with an effort in Congress to impose a nationwide ban on abortions. It is still widely predicted that Democrats will lose both houses in 2022, so you can expect a nationwide ban on abortion."
That will be highly contested, O'Neill suggests, because the draft high court opinion argues the issue of abortion should be returned to states to decide.
"Elections matter," O'Neill said. "And that is something we absolutely need to be prepared for. With that kind of challenge facing all of us, at the grassroots level, we need to be prepared to build a truly intersectional movement for reproductive health, which doesn't exist in this country right now."
Even before the leaked Supreme Court brief, reproductive rights drew local attention. Planned Parenthood recently received a historic $275 million donation from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, including $15 million in unrestricted funds to the organization's Columbia Willamette offices. Scott also donated to the Planned Parenthood in Southwestern Oregon.
Jamie McLeod-Skinner, a Democrat, is seeking election in Oregon's 5th Congressional district, challenging Democratic incumbent Kurt Schrader, who recently clinched an endorsement from Planned Parenthood.
McLeod-Skinner is endorsed by O'Neill, the former NOW president, who said that endorsement was a mistake. "The lowest paid workers in this country are tipped workers," O'Neill said. Two thirds of them are women. (Schrader) has systematically opposed paid family leave and paid sick leave."
Schrader recently told the Statesman Journal that his support for abortion access remains unwavering. "I have and always will fight to protect women's rights to make their own health care decisions, free from interference of politicians," Schrader said, noting he wants to see the Women's Health Protection Act passed nationally and Roe v. Wade codified into federal law.
In Oregon's 1st District, which represents much of Washington County and parts of Portland, incumbent Suzanne Bonamici has denounced the draft Supreme Court opinion. Democratic primary challenger Scott Phillips has not addressed the issue on his campaign website or in a BallotPedia candidate questionnaire. Fellow challenger Christian Robertson has confirmed he is pro-choice.
In District 3, Earl Blumenauer faces challenger Jonathan Polhemus, a substitute teacher, for the Democratic primary. Blumenauer called the high court draft "shameful" and vowed to fight the efforts "state by state." Polhemus has not addressed the issue of abortion on his campaign website or Twitter.
The issue even threw a spanner into a race for Portland City Hall. Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty's campaign sent out and then retracted an email on May 3 signed by Christel Allen, executive director of Pro-Choice Oregon, that falsely implied two of her challengers, administrative judge Vadim Mozyrsky and businessman Rene Gonzalez, are "anti-choice." Both have repeatedly said they are pro-choice. The retracted email also said the same of Hardesty's fellow commissioner, Mingus Mapps. Last fall, he opposed sending $200,000 in city funds to local abortion providers in anticipation of Texas women coming to Oregon for abortions. Mapps describes himself as a pro-choice Democrat but said the council should focus on local crises faced by the city, including homelessness and record gun violence.
Mapps has endorsed Mozyrsky over Hardesty.
Oregonians favor reproductive rights
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%.
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