Few people appeared neutral toward proposed legislation that builds on Oregon’s 2017 law ensuring access to abortion and other reproductive and gender-affirming health care.
The House health care committee received 600 statements – though some were duplicative and others were filed anonymously – for and against House Bill 2002, which resulted from a work group named by House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, after the leak of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion that ended abortion as a federal constitutional right after 50 years. The little-changed final opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, released June 24, 2022, reversed the court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.
“The right to have an abortion does not mean abortion access is accessible,” Rayfield told reporters at an earlier briefing on Monday, March 20.
Although abortion remains legal in Oregon, such care is unavailable in many rural communities, and inaccessible for many low-income people.
The Behavioral Health and Health Care Committee also heard from numerous witnesses on both sides. The hearing was preceded by a rally in favor of the bill sponsored at the state Capitol in Salem by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, Basic Rights Oregon, American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon and Fair Shot for All coalition. Most of those who filed statements with the committee spoke largely for themselves, not for an organization.
Oregon Right to Life sponsored its own march Jan. 28 in Salem.
Among other things, the pending bill would create a crime of interference with a health care facility, set maximum penalties of 364 days in jail (one day short of the minimum for a felony, which qualifies someone for state prison) and a $6,250 fine, and empower individuals to go to court to enforce their rights under the law.
The bill also says: “Every individual has a fundamental right to make decisions about the individual’s reproductive health, including the right to make decisions about the individual’s reproductive health care, to use or refuse contraception, to continue the individual’s pregnancy and give birth or to terminate the individual’s pregnancy.”
Oregon lawmakers removed penalties for abortion in 1969 – four years before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized it nationwide – and started using state funds for abortions in 1977, the year after Congress restricted federal funding. Gov. Kate Brown signed the Reproductive Health Equity Act in 2017, which passed with no Republican votes – and just one Democrat opposing it.
Advocates speak out
But advocates say more protections are needed, especially after numerous states moved to ban or restrict abortions and gender-affirming care in the aftermath of the latest U.S. Supreme Court decision. According to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, 24 states have or are likely to ban or severely restrict abortions. The national ACLU has tallied 420 related bills pending in states, including those restricting gender-affirming care.
- Cassie Purdy, political director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon: “Any barrier to health care in our state is unacceptable and puts lives at risk. In Oregon, we will not stand by while our lives and our freedom are under constant attack. This bill will protect the people who both seek and provide that care in our state, and strengthen access to the life-saving services that people need to thrive.”
- Todd Addams, interim executive director for Basic Rights Oregon: “As a transgender man, I can’t stress enough how crucial this legislation will be in improving people’s lives -- and perhaps even saving people’s lives. Across the country, over 300 bills attacking LGBTQ+ people’s rights and personhood have been introduced this legislative session. Basic Rights Oregon is proud to see Oregon resisting this trend, and instead lead the way in ensuring respect, dignity, and access to care for all Oregonians.”
- Mariana Garcia Medina, senior policy associate, ACLU of Oregon: “Reproductive and gender-affirming care are essential health care services all Oregonians should have access to as part of our constitutional liberties. Passing House Bill 2002 is an opportunity to affirm Oregon’s values and leadership in protecting access to reproductive and gender-affirming care.”
What leaders say
Democrats have sufficient majorities to pass the legislation and send it to Democratic Gov. Tina Kotek.
Among the others who spoke at a press event before the rally and hearing were Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber, D-Beaverton, and House Majority Whip Andrea Valderrama, D-Portland. Lieber and Valderrama are two of the bill’s four chief sponsors, along with Rep. Travis Nelson, D-Portland, a nurse, and Sen. Elizabeth Steiner, D-Portland, a family physician.
“As a politician, I should not be making health care decisions for others,” Steiner told reporters at the same event on Monday. “As a physician, in consultation with my patient, I should. No government should punish someone for getting lifesaving care, providing that care or protecting that faith.”
Kimberly McCullough, legislative director for the Oregon Department of Justice, said the bill was crafted to take into account the broad free-expression guarantee in the Oregon Constitution. Though Oregon does not now have the offense of interference with a health care facility, she said, there is a federal law and similar laws in other states, including Washington.
“I want to be clear that this statute does not prohibit protected activity such as protesting at a clinic,” McCullough said. “The interference has to rise to a level where it is actually interfering with a facility” and specific harm results.
Peter Wong, a reporter for The Portland Tribune, can be reached at [email protected]. This article is used with permission of Pamplin Media Group. Read more from Oregon’s largest source of independent local news at pamplinmedia.com.