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Health authority launches website to ease abortion access as Supreme Court hears anti-abortion case

Health authority officials said the timing was not a coincidence and marks Oregon’s support for retaining wide access to abortions
The Oregon Health Authority in Salem. | OREGON HEALTH AUTHORITY
March 27, 2024

The Oregon Health Authority launched a website to make it easier for women to access an abortion on Tuesday, the same day the U.S. Supreme Court considered another abortion case brought by groups hoping to restrict access to an abortion pill.

The timing was not coincidence, according to spokesman Larry Bingham of the health authority.

“With the national conversation and confusion about reproductive health, we wanted to make sure that people in Oregon have accurate, factual information and access to resources and services about abortion, which is legal in our state,” Bingham said in an email.

The Abortion Access in Oregon website makes it clear that abortions are legal in Oregon, which has among the fewest restrictions nationwide. Gov. Tina Kotek emphasized in a release that not only state residents but also visitors to the state are entitled to an abortion in Oregon.

Under the Reproductive Health Equity Act passed in 2017, abortions are free to patients. They have to be covered by insurance, including Medicaid and commercial and employer plans. Oregon also covers abortions for undocumented immigrants. But there are exceptions to the access law. Veterans, tribal communities, federal employees and others who receive health care coverage through the federal government are not covered for the procedure because of a congressional ban on using federal money for abortions. The state also gave Providence Health Plan an exception, along with religious employers who want to opt out.

The state has a program, the Abortion Access Plan, to help people not covered by their insurer, and there’s a link on the website. The website also offers information about different abortion services, a patient’s legal rights, a list of abortion providers, information on insurance and help paying costs and how to get help with travel and other support. 

About the same time that the health authority announced the website, U.S. Supreme Court justices were hearing arguments in a case backed by religious groups against the abortion pill, mifepristone. The Food and Drug Administration approved it in 2000 and updated prescribing guidelines in 2016, making it easier to access the pill.

Conservative religious groups want the Food and Drug Administration to roll back those guidelines to make it harder to access the drug, which is also used to ease miscarriages. When used to induce an abortion, mifepristone is usually taken with another drug, misoprostol. Medication abortion accounts for more than 60% of the abortions performed nationwide, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion data. 

As States Newsroom reported, the justices appeared skeptical of the arguments of the anti-abortion groups. A ruling in the case is expected later this year. If the judges were to rule against allowing easier access to mifepristone, Oregon would be affected though the state has a stockpile of the drug. About a year ago, Kotek ordered the purchase of a three-year supply of the medication, and the health authority is working with providers to develop a plan to distribute the pills, if needed.

Hundreds turned out to protest further limiting abortion, including Oregon’s Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. She spoke alongside Attorney General Letitia James of New York as part of a roster of speakers from across the nation who gathered in Washington, D.C. to rally for access to safe and legal abortion.

“It was an honor to be with so many champions of reproductive justice on the front lines of the fight for access to essential health care,” Rosenblum said later in a news release.  “The energy was infectious and gave me hope and renewed energy for the continued fight.”

Oregon officials present united front

Meanwhile in Oregon, providers, advocates and Democratic lawmakers – including Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Democratic Rep. Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon’s 1st District and Dr. Sara Kennedy, an OBGYN and the new president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette – gathered in northeast Portland, presenting a united front for retaining access to mifepristone. Wyden said Tuesday’s court case marked another attempt by conservatives to turn back reproductive health care following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in 2022.

“What we’re essentially dealing with is the next and most recent installment in the assault – the inhumane, unconstitutional assault on reproductive rights, said Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat. “First you have Roe v. Wade, most recently we had IVF and today we’re dealing with mifepristone. We gotta believe contraception is coming in the future.”

Kennedy voiced a similar sentiment, saying the case marks “another extreme attempt to chip away at safe and legal abortion, while Bonamici vowed to continue to fight for reproductive rights.

“Today, and for as long as it takes, we will fight to protect, restore and expand access to abortion – and that includes access to mifepristone,” Bonamici said.

The Roe v. Wade decision prompted a legislative workgroup to recommend that the health authority create a website with comprehensive reproductive health information. And in March that year, in anticipation of that ruling, the Democratic-controlled Legislature allocated $15 million to a Reproductive Health Equity Fund to help people from underserved communities gain access to abortions and other care. Although abortions are legal across the state, 75% of Oregon counties – home to about one-fifth of the state’s women – lack an abortion provider, according to Seeding Justice, a Portland nonprofit that’s overseeing the fund. Last year, it provided $1 million to the Northwest Abortion Access Fund, which helps patients in Oregon, Idaho, Washington and Alaska access abortions, including by paying for travel, hotels, meals and child care. The fund has seen an increase in demand of more than 250% over the past year, Seeding Justice said.

Last week, it announced the distribution of another $8.5 million to 23 organizations that serve a range of low-income, racially and ethnically diverse communities. Recipients included Basic Rights Oregon, Latino Network, Northwest Portland Area Health Indian Board, Oregon Community Health Workers Association, Planned Parenthood and Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center.

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