Bid to ban state funds for abortions tests open Oregon laws

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Teenage girls in Oregon don’t need their parents’ consent to end an unwanted pregnancy, women in the country illegally have coverage for the procedure and private insurers will soon be required to cover the full cost of an abortion under a new law.

Oregon has the least restrictive laws on abortion access in the U.S., making it a political standard-bearer for the abortion rights movement. But a dozen years after voters last rejected a measure to reduce women’s ability to get an abortion, a question on the Nov. 6 ballot is asking a new generation to amend the Oregon Constitution to ban the use of state funding for abortion.

If Measure 106 passes, low-income women insured by Oregon’s Medicaid program would pay out of pocket for the procedure. Its language also would likely mean public employees — such as teachers, government officials, firefighters and police — would no longer receive abortion coverage through insurance.

The emergence of the ballot measure amid an especially divisive U.S. political climate — and on the heels of rightward shift of the U.S. Supreme Court — has alarmed abortion rights advocates.

Opponents have labeled the measure a backdoor ban on abortion and say it targets the state’s poorest residents, who would have to pay $400 to $600 for the procedure without coverage from the Oregon Health Plan.

“In many ways, Oregon is the North Star when it comes to reproductive rights and abortion access, and if we, in this election, were to lose, it would be incredibly emboldening to the anti-abortion movement,” said Grayson Dempsey, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon.

“It’s really scary to me to know that we have one of the most serious threats to abortion in Oregon in my lifetime.”

Those supporting the measure say it’s not an attack on abortion but an attempt to give Oregon residents a say in how their tax dollars are spent after years with no referendums on the issue.

Voters rejected similar funding bans in 1978 and 1986. A measure requiring parental notification before a minor’s abortion failed in 2006, when today’s newest voters were in grade school.

“I’m 24 and so I haven’t actually ever been able to vote on something like this before. There is a huge, new crop of voters who haven’t had a chance to vote on where their tax dollars are going,” said Nichole Bentz, a spokeswoman for Measure 106. “We’re not banning abortion at all. We’re just talking about who’s paying for abortions.”

The federal government bans Medicaid funding of abortions, and a majority of states follow that lead. But Oregon is one of 17 states that uses its own tax dollars to fund abortions for women who are eligible for Medicaid.

It’s also the only state where no additional restrictions on abortion access have been added by voters or state lawmakers since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized the procedure in 1973, Dempsey said.

In the last year, about 3,600 women have had abortions paid for by state Medicaid at a cost of $2 million.

In Oregon, where voting is done entirely by mail, voters have their ballots, and many have already turned them in.

Despite the state’s track record of rejecting limits to abortion access, the measure is being closely watched.

“We are actually a purple state. We are not red; we are not blue,” said Gerry O’Scannlain, a retired business executive. “And I’m very profoundly aware of that because I’ve lived here 49 years, and I’ve seen it ebb and flow.”


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