Access to Abortion in the Pacific Northwest Won’t Change Unless State Law Does

The leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft decision reversing Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood signals an impending seismic shift in the nation’s legal landscape. But in the Pacific Northwest, the ruling, even if it becomes law, will make little difference to abortion access.

“As an organization, our fundamental mission is to recognize that human life begins at the time of fertilization, said Lois Anderson, executive director of Oregon Right to Life, which advocates for stricter regulations on fertilization. abortion. “This unique human life deserves protection and law. But practically…I don’t see that there would be a significant impact right away for Oregon and for Oregonians.

Because access to reproductive health in Oregon is governed by laws enacted by the state legislature, rather than a court’s interpretation of the state constitution, a sudden change in those policies are unlikely, said Alison Gash, an associate professor of political science at Oregon State University. .

“I suspect the Oregon Supreme Court would argue that their understanding of the state’s constitutional mandate is that it would protect a person’s right to choose to have an abortion,” said Gash, who studies law and social policy. “But that becomes largely pointless if the state’s legislative commitments continue to stay on the books.”

With a solid Democratic majority in the Legislature and a recent redistricting, but guaranteeing it will stay that way, even the election of a Republican governor is unlikely to change state laws. Oregon state law, updated in 2017, allows late-term abortion, requires private medical insurance and state Medicaid to cover abortion, and codifies the right to gender-affirming care, among other safeguards.

Access to reproductive care in Washington is equally broad and guaranteed by law. Anyone seeking an abortion in their state would be “welcome” and “safe,” Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday at a reproductive rights rally in Seattle.

Both states are already destinations for people from more restrictive states who have access to all the resources necessary to travel to receive abortion care. Reproductive rights advocates expect those numbers to rise if the leaked ruling becomes law, particularly because Idaho’s law banning most abortions after six weeks would go into effect. Idaho law also allows civil suits against people who perform abortions or assist someone to have an abortion.

“It could be charged to people who might be…providing travel to and from where access is available in other states and that’s unfortunately something that we know is going to have a chilling effect and lead to confusion mass,” said Christel Allen, the executive. director of Pro-Choice Oregon, which advocates for legal protections for reproductive health care.

“Access Deserts”

Wyoming and Utah are also expected to enact tougher laws, or even outright bans, if the decision disclosed Monday becomes law.

That would mean up to 320,000 women of childbearing age could soon turn to Oregon as the closest place to access an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a health advocacy research and policy organization. reproductive. The increase for Washington could be 100%. New unrestricted fund for reproductive health equity in Oregon sets aside $15 million to cover costs for abortion providers and patients without insurance coverage or traveling from out of state .

Despite the region’s status as a place where reproductive choices are largely protected, Allen said not everyone in Oregon and Washington has equal access to abortion care.

For example, Oregon law requires private insurance to pay for the abortion, but allows religion-based health care plans to withhold payment for the procedure. A prime example is the coverage offered by the Providence health care system, which has Catholic roots. Providers with close ties to religions that consider abortion to be morally wrong also cannot be coerced into offering abortions.

“And so we have access deserts in the state of Oregon, because there are often monopolies [where a] The religious hospital owns all the other small clinics in town,” Allen said. “That’s the situation we have in Hood River. This is the situation we have in many places on the coast.

Parts of eastern Oregon are also underserved by medical providers willing to offer abortions. Only one family planning clinic currently operates east of the Cascades, and St. Adolphus, which provides much of the hospital-like services in the area, does not offer abortions. Oregonians enrolled in federal health insurance plans, including many federal employees, those covered by Veterans Affairs and those enrolled in the Indian Health Service, also do not have insurance coverage for abortion.

Rachel Brodeur, a member of the Tlingit tribe, told a crowd in Bend this week that federal services are already severely limiting access to abortion care for Native Americans.

Rachel Broduer, a member of the Tlingit tribe, told a mostly white crowd gathered in Bend on Tuesday to protest the leaked decision that she never had easy access to abortion because she gets her health care through the Indian Health Service.

“The same people who worry about losing access to something have no idea it’s something I never had access to,” Broduer said through a megaphone. “While we have this momentum, while we’re talking about it, can you please, please bring us with you?”

Future of regional abortion laws

For their part, Oregonians have shown little interest in changing the region’s policies. In 2014, 63% of Oregon adults said they thought abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit think tank. partisan. In the same poll, 60% of Washingtonians polled said abolition should be legal in all or most cases. The center doesn’t have more recent state data, but nationally the percentage of people who think abortion should be legal has risen from 55% in 2014 to 59% in 2021.

A sizable minority in both states still believe that abortion is wrong and should be banned altogether. Anderson of Right to Life Oregon sees the likely direction of the US Supreme Court as a welcome change in the country’s legal framework.

“I think the most important outcome of this decision may be, ‘Let’s bring this discussion and these decisions to their rightful place, which is in our states and with our elected officials who have the closest relationship with us,'” said Anderson. “This is the right place to discuss and make decisions regarding these laws.”

Given the current political makeup of the state legislature, court rulings in Oregon will likely continue to lead to policies like those currently in place.

Salami McConneha from Camas, Washington uses her body to voice her position on abortion rights.  McConneha was one of hundreds of people gathered in downtown Portland to protest a leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion saying they would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade on Tuesday, May 3 2022.

Salami McConneha from Camas, Washington uses her body to voice her position on abortion rights. McConneha was one of hundreds of people gathered in downtown Portland to protest a leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion saying they would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade on Tuesday, May 3 2022.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To learn more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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