Ontario City Councilors Split On Concerns About New Abortion Clinic

Planned Parenthood in Portland Oregon Abortion Reproductive rights.jpg

ONTARIO — Officials at Planned Parenthood will not go on the record to say they are opening a clinic in Ontario that will provide reproductive health-care services, including abortion. However, there are indications they could. While word has started circulating, two Ontario City Councilors at a recent meeting took to the podium to say they had heard from concerned community members about what they had done to stop the pending clinic. They also voiced their stance on abortion.

How we got here

The ongoing debate over abortion recently heated up after a leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion earlier this month which hinted at overturning Roe V. Wade. Members of the court have since confirmed the validity of the document, but stated that it is not their final decision. However, with the court expected to make a decision by June or July that could send abortion rights back to states, some states already have trigger laws.

This includes Idaho, which more than a month prior to the leak, had enacted a law significantly reducing access to abortions. It bans them after six weeks of gestation and allows family members to sue abortion providers. The law is on hold currently as the Idaho Supreme Court considers a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality. That was filed by Planned Parenthood upon Gov. Brad Little’s signing.

If the law is upheld, women in Idaho would have to travel farther to obtain such services or may chose riskier options, as was the case when abortions were still illegal in the United States and is currently still the case around the world due to legalities and limited access to safe providers.

In Oregon, abortive services remain a protected health care right, due to House Bill 3391, passed in 2017. However, in the Western Treasure Valley, the closest place to obtain an abortion in the region is at a Planned Parenthood in Meridian or Boise. After that, the next-closest facility is 250 miles away in Bend.

Is a clinic opening in Ontario?

Anne Udall, CEO for Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette, told Oregon Public Broadcasting on May 3 that an article stating they were opening in Ontario “was a leak.” She was referencing an article in the Malheur Enterprise on April 13, stating that Planned Parenthood would be opening a clinic at the space occupied by Four Rivers Health Clinic at 640 Southwest Fourth Ave.

The following day, in an interview with Lisa Balick, of KOIN TV, Udall indicated Planned Parenthood was actively working on a plan in the area. She said that while no formal announcement had been made or would be made until more was known, they were engaged and reaching out to people. Udall said through that outreach they had discovered that people in eastern Oregon and Ontario “have a different opinion” about Planned Parenthood. She indicated this could be tied to the myth that the providers recommend abortion, saying they do not.

“We will be a good partner,” Udall said, noting they would be sensitive to the environment being different.

Four Rivers Health Clinic officials have not returned multiple requests for comment from the Argus Observer to confirm whether Planned Parenthood would in fact be leasing their space. However, a voice message on their phone states they will no longer be seeing patients at that location.In response to an official request for comment from the Argus Observer, Planned Parenthood officials will not confirm that they were leasing the space. They say they could respond with additional details when those are ready to be shared.

“At Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette, we believe that all people should have access to high-quality, affordable health care, no matter how much money they make or where they live,” reads a statement from Kenji Nozaki, chief of affiliate operations, Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette.

It further says the company is exploring expansion in Oregon in order “to ensure everyone can get the health care they need, when they need it.”

‘We’re going to receive the brunt’

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, City Councilor John Kirby was the first to talk, leaving the dais to do so. He said in his opinion that “abortion was an abomination,” and providing such a service was like “a free weekend, if you will.”

He wanted it clear, however, that no matter how he felt about it, there was no way for the council to intercede and prevent a medical clinic from opening.

“We’re going to receive the brunt of the people from Idaho seeking abortions,” he said of women from Idaho who may come to Ontario to seek abortive services once Planned Parenthood opens.He said already the city had seen a lot of Idaho traffic shopping the recreational marijuana dispensaries.

“Now, we’ll be the abortion capitol. Very soon we’re going to have the issue of magic mushrooms coming up. Why don’t we just add prostitution and make it a trifecta?”

Kirby also expressed concern over whose insurance would be paying for Idahoans who receive abortions in Oregon, provided they don’t pay for it out of pocket. In Oregon, he said, businesses which provide insurance by law have to cover abortions and can have no say in preventing that. He said he had someone checking on the matter in Idaho. It’s unclear right away how individual insurance providers handle abortions, however, when it comes to state health care, Idaho does not cover abortions.

Per law, Medicaid does cover abortions in Oregon. In Oregon, those who do not qualify for Medicaid, may still be eligible to receive coverage through Oregon’s Reproductive Health Equity Act. Other options include clinical funding (sometimes available), or the the Abortion Access Network, a nonprofit organization funded by Northwest Abortion Access Fund, which helps pay for abortions (including travel and lodging vouchers) for those needing assistance with that.Councilor Eddie Melendrez, who attended over Zoom, said since the topic of abortion was brought up, he wanted to address it, too.

He wanted to explain how he was pro-life and pro-choice, and how he could be both at the same time.

As someone who dedicates his life to youth, he said he still believes in a woman’s right to choose whether to get an abortion. Melendrez has been in volunteer and mentorship roles through Community in Action and the Treasure Valley Boxing Club. He was named man of the year in 2018 because of his work with at-risk youth.

“Saying ‘murder’ or ‘dead’ paints the wrong picture for women,” Melendrez said. “When a woman makes that decision, it is probably the last resort.”

Furthermore, he said being pro-life doesn’t just mean seeing a child be born. For Melendrez, being pro-life means investing in and supporting youth from the time they are born all the way until they graduate high school.

He then reiterated that he felt the decision of abortion should be up to a woman, not a man.

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