Oregon Attracts Thousands Of Dollars Nationwide In Abortion Battle
Oregon has become a surprise battleground over abortion rights in next month’s election, as Planned Parenthood affiliates and other pro-choice groups from around the country pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into defeating Ballot Measure 106.
The measure, banning state and local public funding for all but “medically necessary” abortions and in cases of rape or incest, squeaked onto the November ballot, pushed by a low-profile grassroots group with meager financial backing.
Now, Oregon’s pro-choice establishment is responding with force, using a war chest that has raised more than $2.5 million this year. About half of that has come from out-of-state sources, according to campaign finance filings with the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office.
The conflict takes place as Brett Kavanaugh joins the U.S. Supreme Court. Kavanaugh is presumed by many observers to favor overturning Roe v. Wade, which would give states ultimate authority on abortion policy.
The Oregon measure is drawing outsized national interest because of the state’s long role as a leader in abortion rights and state funding of abortions for Medicaid recipients. Federal law bans use of federal money for abortions.
“Oregon is a very special place (on abortion issues), one of the states that other states look to for ideas on how to support abortions rights and access,” said Elizabeth Nash, an expert on state issues at the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, a research group that collects data on reproductive rights. Oregon, Washington, California, New York and some northeast states are now pro-choice outposts, as more than 400 anti-abortion laws or measures have been passed in 33 states over the past seven years, Nash said.
“The lion’s share of states are looking to restrict abortion access,” she said.
Ten Planned Parenthood affiliates, from California to Texas and New York to Illinois, have donated nearly $500,000 to No Cuts to Care, the main anti-Measure 106 campaign in Oregon. Another $585,000 has come from the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Sixteen Thirty Fund. The National Education Association sent the campaign $100,000. All told, No Cuts to Care has pulled in $2.1 million and still has $1.1 million on hand as election day nears.
Jeffrey Hons, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of South Texas, will be in Portland this month to talk at a City Club event on Oct. 26 about the measure.
“I’m a lifelong Texan,” Hons said. “It pains me to have witnessed the dismantling of abortion access in Texas. I have long thought that such a thing would not, could not, happen everywhere. To see an effort in Oregon that is trying to take a first step toward what has been established in Texas surprises me and frightens me.”
Focus On Public Spending
Whether Measure 106 will resonate with voters remains to be seen. On the face of it, an anti-abortion measure seems unlikely to appeal to Oregon’s liberal, Democratic urban population centers, which typically control the fate of statewide votes.
In recent decades, Oregon voters have nixed five anti-abortion measures.
Oregon Right to Life, the state’s mainstream anti-abortion group, says it favors Measure 106 but isn’t working for it, focusing rather on electing anti-abortion candidates.
Instead, Measure 106 is being pushed by Corvallis-based Oregon Life United. Founded in 2013, the volunteer-led political action committee has tried three times before, and failed, to get an anti-abortion measure onto the Oregon ballot. Each time, however, it has garnered more signatures and contributions. This year, the group gathered 221 more valid signatures than the 117,799 needed to put the measure on the ballot.
The group said hundreds of churches and thousands of volunteers took part in the effort. Headed by Corvallis graphics designer Jeff Jimerson, the group this year raised a little over $300,000 but has just $84,000 left.
Ballots are due to be mailed out starting Oct. 17. Election Day is Nov. 6.
Oregon Life United group is relying heavily on volunteers, community meetings and inexpensive or free social media, such as Facebook, said spokeswoman Nichole Bentz.
The group’s measure appeals not only to those who oppose abortion, but also to those who may be pro-choice but don’t like tax dollars being spent on abortion, she said.
The measure’s ban would prevent state funding for residents who are on the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s version of Medicaid, and it would prevent the use of public money to pay or reimburse for abortions under health insurance plans of state or local public-sector employees.
The focus on public spending may appeal to voters, said Jim Moore, an assistant professor at Pacific University who specializes in Oregon politics and voting.
“If the people behind (the measure) can focus on taxes and spending, it has a chance” of passing, he said.
The tax dollars at stake are minor in the context of the state’s overall annual budget of about $37 billion. The Oregon Health Authority said that in the most recent fiscal year, the state spent $1.9 million to provide abortions to 3,593 people on the Oregon Health Plan, which covers 1 million Oregonians. Annual spending in recent years has averaged about $2 million for 3,000 to 4,000 abortions.
“People are shocked when they see that $1.9 million number,” said Bentz. “They wonder if this is a good use of taxpayer funds.”
Nash of the Guttmacher Institute said that in states around the country, anti-abortion advocates have used those kinds of arguments to whittle down access to abortion. Pro-choice advocates, by contrast, see abortion as being part of the “continuum of pregnancy care,” she said.
Private Insurers Largely Cover Abortions
It’s unclear how many public employees in Oregon get abortions each year paid for by their publicly funded health insurance.
The measure would affect the health insurance of more than 75,000 Oregon public employees, said Kalpana Krishnamurthy, field organizer with Forward Together, a California-based advocacy group that is helping to lead and fund the anti-106 campaign.
“Abortion care, which is part of health care, is covered under almost all private insurance plans in our state,” she said. “Public employees deserve to have the same kind of insurance coverage as those who are privately insured.”
No Cuts to Care has pulled in money not only from out-of-state Planned Parenthood groups, but also from many Oregon groups, including state government and school district employee unions, the Oregon ACLU and Oregon NARAL.
“We have printed materials to take to voters at the door, are engaging people on the phone, digitally and through the press, and volunteers are distributing yard signs across the state,” Krishnamurthy said.
A separate anti-106 committee, Team Oregon, raised over $400,000 this year, and still has nearly $200,000 on hand. That group was funded largely by Gov. Kate Brown’s campaign.
The heavily financed anti-106 effort “seems to me like an insurance policy at this point,” said Moore.
Oregon Life United, meanwhile, consists of “true believers,” said Moore. The group’s funding has come almost entirely in relatively small donations from Oregon residents. The exception is a $125,000 donation from Marta von Borstel, a manager at a Portland financial services firm.
“I feel strongly that I should not be forced to support abortion by the use of my tax money,” von Borstel told The Lund Report. “People may choose to kill their babies in this country but surely I can choose not to pay for it and therefore be an active part of the killing.”
Moore said Oregon Life United’s success in getting the measure on the ballot shows the group finally mastered complex signature-gathering part of the state’s ballot-measure process. The group twice previously failed to get an anti-abortion measure on the ballot.
“Now that they got it on the ballot, they have to figure out how to pass it,” he said.
Reach Christian Wihtol at [email protected].