Oregon panel urges actions to safeguard access to abortion
A legislative work group says Oregon has more work to do to safeguard and expand access to abortion and other reproductive health services.
Oregon is the only state with no restrictions on abortion — the Legislature removed penalties four years before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized it nationwide 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 of abortions.
House Speaker Dan Rayfield announced the group on May 19. It was ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on June 24 that overturned its 1973 ruling for a federal constitutional guarantee — but after a draft of that decision had been leaked on May 2.
Rayfield, a Democrat from Corvallis, said this in testimony Wednesday, Dec. 7, to the House Health Care Committee:
"Oregonians have clearly affirmed their support for making abortion and other care safe and accessible to all.
"But I want to be clear: The right to access an abortion does not mean abortion care is accessible.
"In response to the leaked draft of the opinion this May, thousands of Oregonians took to the streets to protest. There was a shared understanding that the future of reproductive health rights in the country was in jeopardy.
"We knew we couldn't be complacent while other states were preparing to roll back protections and attempting to criminalize health care access."
The recommendations come about one month before the 2023 Legislature opens its session Jan. 9. The 160-day limit starts on Jan. 17.
Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum also testified to the committee from Washington, D.C.
"While Oregon still has some of the strongest protections in the country, we also border a state — Idaho — with a near total abortion ban.
"As your attorney general, my promise to Oregonians is simple: the Department of Justice will never stop defending your reproductive rights. I want to thank the Speaker's Office for bringing these stakeholders together, including from my office, to ensure that Oregon continues to be a leader in protecting full access to reproductive health care for all who need it."
Though abortion is legal throughout Oregon, the only such services available east of the Cascades are in Bend, far from the Oregon-Idaho border.
Also testifying were two legislators in the work group, Sen. Kate Lieber and Rep. Andrea Valderrama, both Democrats from Portland. Lieber is the new Senate majority leader and Valderrama continues as the House majority whip.
Valderrama said that based on her experience on the David Douglas School Board, expanded access to health services will reduce the future incidence of medical and other problems.
"While the right to an abortion is protected in Oregon law, this report confirms that coverage and access gaps continue to persist," she said.
"As a legislature, we can't sit by and accept these barriers. We must challenge them — and have the power to do so."
Lieber, the first lesbian to serve in the Senate, discussed the proposed protections for gender-affirming care for transgender people.
""Reproductive and gender-affirming care is lifesaving care," she said. "Who you are and where you live should not impact your access to lifesaving care."
The other legislators are Rep. Travis Nelson of Portland, a nurse, and Sen. Elizabeth Steiner of Beaverton, a physician.
No Republicans voted for Oregon's 2017 law.
One of the recommendations is for legislation to make it clear that pregnancy crisis centers and similarly named organizations do not offer abortion as an option for women.
Kimberly McCullough, legislative director for the Oregon Department of Justice, said the Unlawful Trade Practices Act — which dates back to 1977 — could be the basis for legislation. Oregon's basic consumer protection law enables individuals to go to court to challenge deceptive practices by businesses.
Legislation has been introduced in previous sessions, but no bill has advanced to a vote in either chamber. McCullough said legislation would have to be written so that it does not run afoul of the state constitutional guarantee of free expression.
The report proposes steps to protect, strengthen, and expand equitable access to all forms of reproductive care. Recommendations include but are not limited to proposals that:
• Improve access to care in medically underserved regions of the state.
• Build up the health care workforce and expand opportunities for continued learning.
• Protect individuals located in Oregon from criminal and civil liability for receiving, supporting, or providing reproductive and gender-affirming care.
• Close gaps in insurance coverage for patients.
• Invest in patient and consumer education and outreach.
• Protect Oregonians from misleading and biased medical claims by crisis pregnancy centers.
• Expand existing rights to access health services.
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