The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn a nearly 50-year-old right to abortion has little immediate impact in Oregon, where the state Constitution guarantees reproductive rights, including free abortions, that aren’t touched by the ruling.
Still, the landmark decision issued Friday in Washington, D.C., will affect Oregon. Reproductive health care providers have been preparing for months for an influx of patients from states, including neighboring Idaho, where doctors will face prison time for providing abortions.
Health care providers, Democratic lawmakers and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum are part of a legislative task force that currently is analyzing Oregon’s laws for loopholes in access, including ensuring that medical professionals aren’t punished for providing care to women from states where abortion is illegal. They’re also reviewing laws on other controversial health care issues, including gender-affirming care, in the event of future Supreme Court decisions limiting medical care.
Oregon led the way
Abortion has been legal in every state since the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, though many states limit access with laws requiring counseling, waiting periods or bans on late-term abortions. In Oregon, abortion became a right under the state Constitution in 1983.
Oregon became the first state to codify abortion rights in law in 2017. The Reproductive Health Equity Act of 2017 requires insurance companies to cover abortion costs, among other things, and guarantees the state will cover costs for people on Medicaid or who are uninsured, including those without legal documentation to reside in the U.S. A federal law, the Hyde Amendment, prevents federal money from being used to pay for abortions.
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Oregon voters have repeatedly rejected ballot measures that would restrict abortion, most recently voting down a 2018 proposal to ban the use of state money for abortions. Only 35% of voters supported the proposed ban.
But in Republican-controlled states, lawmakers have long pushed legislation that conflicts with the precedent set by Roe v. Wade in the hopes that the Supreme Court would eventually overturn it as it now has done. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case that prompted the ruling, involves a 2018 Mississippi ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The law has been on hold while it was challenged in courts.
The court’s ruling returns the authority to restrict or ban abortions to the states, clearing the way for the Mississippi law and laws in other states restricting abortions to take effect. More than 20 states have laws restricting abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that tracks abortion laws. Those laws include “trigger” laws in 13 states set up to automatically ban abortion if the court rules as it did. They will go into effect, including in Idaho.
A spokeswoman for Rosenblum said the attorney general wouldn’t comment on the opinion until she reviews dissenting opinions.
State Rep. Travis Nelson, a Portland-area nurse and a member of the legislative task force, said women should feel confident that their rights are protected in Oregon.
“We’re gonna do all we can here in Oregon to ensure that women’s rights are protected, and that Oregon is a safe place to seek reproductive care,” he said. “Long term, though, I do have concerns looking into the future. If we end up someday getting a United States government in which the president is Republican, the House is Republican and the Senate is Republican, we could be looking at national legislation that makes abortion illegal, which would possibly make all the work that we’ve done in Oregon moot.”
While the legislative workgroup was established after a leaked draft opinion in the Dobbs case, it is reviewing more than reproductive care. Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, a physician and member of the group, said abortion is part of a trend of political decisions about health care.
“We need to protect health care providers who are providing services in the state that are completely legal, and we need to be thinking about all sorts of issues that are being brought up that we never thought we were going to have to consider,” she said. “So it’s not just about abortion. It’s about a wide range of health care that has been politicized and shouldn’t have been.”
Potential for substandard care
Lisa Gardner, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Southwest Oregon, said the decision will be felt widely.
“This decision will profoundly impact individuals from having agency over their own lives, their economic futures and that of their families,” Gardner told the Capital Chronicle. “This decision will also have a profound impact on the American economy, as the restrictions that will follow in potentially half of the states in this country will impact the ability of people to show up for work – in an economy that is already challenged by workforce shortages.”
She said people of color and those with low incomes will be most affected.
“People will continue to find abortion care following this decision. Those with economic resources will have access to private doctors who will meet their health care needs – as was the case before 1973 when the Roe case was decided,” Gardner said. “What we will see are those who do not have those means will seek substandard care, and people will die – as they did pre-Roe.”
But reproductive health care providers, including Planned Parenthood, weren’t surprised by the Supreme Court’s decision.
“Planned Parenthood has been planning for this day for over two years – since the last administration made clear that they planned to dismantle personal freedoms and the right to privacy,” Gardner said. She said the nonprofit will continue to help patients with their family planning needs, including performing abortions, an providing gender affirming and other care.
She said the decision means that states like Oregon which protect abortion rights will have to “pick up the slack,” by responding to stepped up demand. Already, providers in Oregon have faced requests for abortions from women in Texas – and Idaho, which has a so-called trigger ban making abortions now illegal there following the Supreme Court decision.
“We saw the trauma and the harm of patients having to take extraordinary actions – or not to be able to take those measures – in seeking the health care they need,” Gardner said.
Planned Parenthood has leased space in a building in Ontario along the Idaho border, but the organization has yet to announce a clinic there. The abortion ban in Idaho means that women in eastern Oregon who had traveled across the border for abortion and other care will now have to travel elsewhere. Planned Parenthood’s closest clinic now is in Bend.
Abortion’s future in Oregon
While Oregon’s Democratic lawmakers prepared to defend and strengthen the state’s abortion laws, abortion rights opponents praised the court’s decision. Trevor Lane, Oregon Right to Life spokesman, said in a statement that abortion opponents have been working toward this day for more than 50 years.
“This decision does not make abortion illegal, rather it returns the responsibility for abortion laws, including protection for unborn babies, to state legislatures,” he said. “Oregon’s extreme laws – elective abortion until the moment of birth – are not supported by most Oregonians.”
Laws governing abortion in Oregon and nationally could change depending on the outcome of this November’s election. In Oregon, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tina Kotek and unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson, previously a Democratic state senator, have both pledged to support abortion rights.
Republican nominee Christine Drazan, who declined to comment on the earlier leaked draft, has said she will veto bills expanding abortion access.
This story originally appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle and is republished here under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license. Read more stories at oregoncapitalchronicle.com.