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Oregon lawmakers, advocates want abortion, gender-affirming care protected in constitution

Backers of the amendment, expected to go to voters in 2024, say Oregonians want additional safeguards for fundamental rights
Oregon Capitol in Salem. | JAKE THOMAS/THE LUND REPORT
April 19, 2023

This article was updated on April 20.

The Oregon Senate’s top Democrats and a coalition of advocacy groups plan to ask voters to enshrine protections for abortion and gender-affirming care, as well as same-sex marriage, in the state constitution. 

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, Basic Rights Oregon and the ACLU of Oregon announced the launch of their campaign in a press release Wednesday. They say the “Equal Rights for All” amendment to the Oregon constitution is needed to shield Oregonians from efforts to undermine access to abortion and gender-affirming health care.

“We’re committed to do whatever it takes to stop the coordinated attacks on our fundamental right to marry who we love and access a full range of health care including contraception, abortion, and gender-affirming care,” Jennifer Williamson, interim executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, said in a statement. “We refuse to take our freedoms for granted. We’re here to fight back.”

Introduced earlier that day, Senate Joint Resolution 33’s primary co-sponsors include Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego; Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber, D-Beaverton; and Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland. Oregon’s Democratic-controlled Legislature will vote during the current legislative session on whether to refer the amendment to voters in the 2024 election.

Oregon already has some of the country’s strongest protections for reproductive health care rights. But concerns have grown among Democratic elected officials and advocates after the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down nationwide abortion rights when it overturned Roe v. Wade.

Republican-led states in recent years have also enacted legislation restricting access to health care that affirms the identity of transgender people, particularly minors.

“At Basic Rights Oregon, we hear every day from community members fearful about their futures. ...They see anti-trans and anti-queer legislation being passed in other states, and worry the same thing could happen in Oregon.”

“At Basic Rights Oregon, we hear every day from community members fearful about their futures,” Todd Addams, interim executive director of  the group, said in a statement. “They see anti-trans and anti-queer legislation being passed in other states, and worry the same thing could happen in Oregon.”

Wagner told reporters Wednesday afternoon that constituents frequently ask him what he’s doing to protect Oregonians’ access to reproductive health services and same-sex marriage. With other states restricting the right to abortion, Wagner said it’s time to ask Oregon voters what values they want reflected in their constitution. 

Joining Wagner was Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland, who noted that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ legal opinion last year suggested the court should reconsider a previous decision upholding the right to same-sex marriage nationally. 

“We want to be sure that Oregonians are protected should the Supreme Court reverse its long held positions on these issues,” she said. 

Oregon lawmakers are also advancing House Bill 2002, a Democratic-backed measure that will provide legal protections for people seeking reproductive and gender-affirming care as well as their providers.

The one-page constitutional amendment in SJR 33 removes the ban on same-sex marriage in Oregon’s constitution that a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling made unenforceable. It also seeks to clarify that the state constitution protects Oregonians’ access to contraceptives and abortion while ensuring they don’t face discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender.

“Across our country, the ACLU has fought back severe and incessant assaults on our rights and freedoms, and we will fight for these constitutional safeguards that will protect us, the people we love, and our communities from further attacks,”  Sandy Chung, executive director of the ACLU of Oregon, said in a statement. “This ballot measure is an opportunity for Oregonians to speak our values into action through our state constitution. Oregonians deserve to be heard.”

You can reach Jake at [email protected] or via Twitter @jakethomas2009.