Reproductive Rights and Abortion in Oregon

Today, our tour through the United States to discuss reproductive care and rights, region by region, takes us to Oregon. We’re going state by state, because of the recent Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decision on the Dobbs versus Jackson Womens Health Organization abortion case this past June. The Dobbs decision reverses the Roe v Wade decision of 1973 by taking issue with substantive due process, a mechanism through which Roe v Wade applied the 14th Amendment to protect abortion as a privacy right. This followed almost a 50 year process of chipping away at abortion rights, since the time of Roe. During that half century, several US states with state legislatures and governors opposing abortion passed abortion trigger laws, laws that would go into effect in the event of Roe v Wade being overturned. But many US states protect the right to choose, including Oregon, the Beaver State.

Indeed, Oregon is one of the most pro-choice states in all of the US. Oregon’s state legislature and has protected the right to choose consistently during the past 30 years as various states have chipped away at abortion rights, set off by the SCOTUS Casey versus Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania case of 1992. Similarly, Oregon’s governor, Democrat Kate Brown is pro-choice. Term limits prevent Brown from running for another gubernatorial term this November, but Oregon’s Democratic candidate, who is expected to win, is committed to protecting the right to choose. It’s not expected that the abortion issue would even come to Oregon’s court system, but in the event that it does, it is expected that the Oregon Supreme Court would uphold abortion rights.

Like many states that are now pro-choice, Oregon had laws against abortion up through the mid-20th century. In 1969, however, Oregon became one of the first US states to legalize abortion. The Beaver State did this with the passage of law SB 193. This act allowed physicians to perform abortion in hospitals during the first 150 days of pregnancy under any of the following circumstances: the embryo/fetus had a physical disorder or a condition that would result in mental handicap; the pregnancy was a result of rape or other criminal intercourse; the pregnancy posed a substantial risk to the mother’s physical or mental health. While many people would not consider such a law as being pro-choice by today’s standards, the circumstance involving the mother’s mental health was open to interpretation by the physician, so it was fairly liberal for 1969. It meant that a woman who was determined to end her pregnancy could get that done in Oregon, safely and legally. Compare this with mid-September 2022, when Alabama, Missouri, South Dakota, and Arkansas already have laws in force that prohibit abortion, with no exceptions for rape and incest, and when various other states are preparing or attempting to put similar laws into effect, also with no exceptions.

Of course, the Roe decision of 1973 ended various restrictions throughout the US, including the circumstances that Oregon had required for abortions prior to 1973. In 1993, however, Oregon removed such remnants officially from its law code to assure protection of the right to choose in the event that Roe v Wade were overturned, as it was this past June. Today, if you reside in Oregon, or if you’re in any other state and travel to Oregon, you can easily obtain a  medication abortion, which is allowed up to gestational day 77, the end of the 11th week of pregnancy, as well as a procedural abortion, well beyond that point.

Additionally, Oregon law requires private health insurance to cover abortion, plus the state offers public funding for abortion. This year, Oregon passed a law called the Reproductive Equity Fund, which appropriated fifteen million dollars to provide immediate support, including expenses for travel and lodging, for residents of other states seeking abortion. In addition to physicians, Oregon allows mid-level practitioners (physician assistants and nurse practitioners) to provide abortion care, which has the effect of making abortion more accessible, as there are more people available to offer services, so it is easier to get an appointment. Together with the governors of California and Washington, Oregon’s Governor Brown announced the “West Coast Offense” aimed at making the three west coast states a solid shield for women in need of abortion.

If there is one thing in Oregon that works against abortion rights, it’s access to abortion care in the sparsely populated region of the state, east of the Cascade mountains. Abortion services are easy to obtain throughout the Portland metropolitan area and throughout the Willamette Valley, the western part of the state, where most Oregonians live. As of the writing of this post in mid September 2022, however, the only place to obtain an abortion east of the Cascades is at the Planned Parenthood Health Center in Bend, Oregon. Bend is on the eastern side of the Cascades, but it’s still in the western half of the state. The situation is on the verge of change, however. Even prior to the Dobbs decision, Planned Parenthood began working to open a new center in Ontario, OR, along the Idaho border, less than an hour from Idaho’s capital, Boise, where antiabortion laws are on the verge of going into effect. The Ontario clinic is expected to be operating by early 2023 and most of the women who obtain services there are expected to be visitors from Idaho and from other nearby states, such as Utah, where abortion is still legal up to the end of week 18 (as of the writing of this post), but is under serious threat, due to a new law that will prohibit abortion, if it survives challenges in Utah’s courts.

David Warmflash
Dr. David Warmflash is a science communicator and physician with a research background in astrobiology and space medicine. He has completed research fellowships at NASA Johnson Space Center, the University of Pennsylvania, and Brandeis University. Since 2002, he has been collaborating with The Planetary Society on experiments helping us to understand the effects of deep space radiation on life forms, and since 2011 has worked nearly full time in medical writing and science journalism. His focus area includes the emergence of new biotechnologies and their impact on biomedicine, public health, and society.

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