The Oregon legislature no longer enjoys a robust, Democratic, firmly pro-choice super majority after the 2010 elections. Indeed, the legislature is now split 50-50, and of course, just as we have seen across the country, with more conservative law makers, new anti-abortion bills have come out with force.
Of all the bills introduced, however, just one is expected to make it to the judiciary committee: House bill 3512, which would outlaw abortion services for woman seeking services after 20 weeks gestation.
This is something that is unheard of in recent years. Oregon has long been known as a pro-choice strong hold. Even though there are many conservative districts, the state is one of the most pro-choice in the nation- with no laws restricting abortion services. Not only is polling indicative of this, the majority of residents here claim women should have at least some right to abortion services and our legislators have always represented the people’s sentiments with gusto.
That is, until now. The threat to abortion right is not just in other states, it’s here, in Oregon, too.
Even though many Democratic seats were lost to Republican and conservative members, the Governor’s chair was won by pro-choice candidate John Kitzhaber, who supports abortion rights for all women and who has a history of vetoing bills that encroach upon a woman’s right to choose. If an anti-abortion bill were to pass the legislature and all the requisite committees, something that is likely not to happen, Governor Kitzhaber would most assuredly veto the bill, because Kitzhaber does not believe in limiting abortion rights regardless of gestation.Senate Bill 901,meanwhile, is intended to provide oversight and more government regulation of abortion clinics. It is supported by Oregon’s Right to Life, which sees the bill as another opportunity to limit availability of abortion services. Oregon Right to Life has been a fairly inept group in this state for years, as they are often trumped by the strong presence of NARAL and Planned Parenthood . However, they are now represented by former House Speaker, Karen Minnis. Her pull with new and established anti-choice law makers in the legislature as well as her relationship with voters, has brought Oregon Right to Life to the forefront of Oregon politics and they’re not letting the opportunity go without waste.
The fact that Right to Life doesn’t mention that a government program specifically targeting abortion clinics, while the clinics presumably stay open, is funded by tax payer dollars (something they hate to do, by the way) , is surprising to me. Yet, it reveals that the claims from many anti-choice groups charging current, federal leaders such as President Obama and Senator Harry Reid are trying to use tax payers’ money to fund abortions, is just an attempt by anti-choicers to stigmatize abortion and create fear in the otherwise ignorant masses. Here in Oregon, anti-choice law makers and groups prove they don’t care about tax dollars being spent if it’s spent on restricting a woman’s right to chose.
And why that is so scary for activists and pro-choice voters is because here, abortions at any point in gestation are legal, there are no parental notification guidelines and the Oregon medicaid fund does cover abortion services for women already on the Oregon Health Plan. This is amazing and has been the norm for 15 years. Not only are women able to obtain abortion services, they are about to secure funds from some state programs. This does a lot to widen access for many woman who otherwise, wouldn’t be able to get an abortion.
It is alarming that the new legislature is pushing such harsh restrictions, especially considering the fact that before now, abortion bills have never gained much publicity or movement in Oregon beside a few bills that have tried to mandate parental notification (Measure 43 failed in 2005 and in 1996 the legislature passed a bill that mandated parental notification but it was vetoed by then-governor Kitzhaber). There has been nothing in recent Oregon history that has so egregiously encroached on a woman’s right to choose, until now.
Kitzhaber will not sign a law that restricts access to abortion services. I have complete faith in that. But, as I have written in the past, voting for conservative candidates and hard right legislative measure proponents, has put every area of this country in jeopardy of losing access to abortion. Because more restrictions, means less access. And if it’s happening in Oregon, the most pro-choice state in the union, it’s happening where you are reading this, right now.