Residents turned out Friday night in the Eugene/Springfield area after the U.S. Supreme Count overturned national abortion rights, leaning the decisions up to the individual states. While Oregon abortion laws remain intact, health care providers anticipates its services will soon be strained by neighboring states whose residents may need to seek family care elsewhere.
In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade – the 1972 case that made abortion a Constitutional right – local organizations are bracing for the impact of out-of-state travelers seeking family planning services.
According to data gathered by Planned Parenthood, Oregon will see a 234% increase in people trying to access reproductive health care in the next year, predominantly from states like Idaho and Nevada that have already begun to restrict abortion access.
“Make no mistake – this decision goes beyond abortion,” said Jennifer M. Allen, CEO of the Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates. “This is about who has power over you, who has the authority to make decisions for you, and who can control your future.”
County Commissioner Heather Buch, who has been instrumental in supporting health clinics across Lane County, said that while county clinics do not provide abortion, “We do have public health clinics that provide family planning that will feel the burden of this decision. It’s important that we maintain them.”
Last week, the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ended nearly 50 years of federally protected access to abortion. States can now make individual decisions on abortion access, with bans expected in roughly half of the 50 states. Oregon, Washington and California, however, previously legalized abortion.
Oregon’s legislature passed Oregon’s Reproductive Health Equity Act in 2017, which codified Roe v. Wade into state law. The state does not require waiting periods, mandated parental involvement, or restrictions on publicly funded abortions.
“Regardless of the Supreme Court’s decisions, abortion is still legal in Oregon,” said An Do, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, during a Zoom news conference Friday.
Rural, marginalized access an issue
A New York Times report reported that “Eastern Oregonians could see up to 35 percent reduction in abortion access when Idaho’s trigger law banning abortion goes into effect.” In response, Planned Parenthood announced they will be leasing a clinic space in Ontario, Ore. a short drive from Idaho.
“To say that abortion is legal in Oregon, so there is no work to do, is an insult to people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, young people and people who live in rural areas,” said Mikaela Byers, with the Northwest Abortion Access Fund. “There are a lot of barriers that Oregonians face, depending on their income and where they live,” Byers said.
The fund is a mutual aid organization serving Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska. It runs a toll-free hotline connecting abortion-seekers with travel, procedures and housing funding. Beyers reported that since the SCOTUS decision, the hotline saw a 42% increase in out-of-state calls and 55% of its overall hotline callers were from Idaho.
Planned Parenthood officials noted that the “devastating” decision would significantly impact those with limited access to health, including the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities, along with people making low incomes or living in rural areas.
Support for people who need abortions outside of Oregon is a growing concern for abortion providers and advocates, area leaders said. “Reproductive justice is inextricably intertwined with racial, gender, and economic justice,” Do said.
Megan Hayes is an Outreach Coordinator with The NAACP in Eugene/Springfield. To her, this national conversation speaks not only to abortion access but also encompassess race, poverty, and rural communities.
“Black women who have uteruses are three times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than white women,” Hayes said. “The communities most affected by decisions like these are the ones we primarily serve – people from rural areas, people of lower income and Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) individuals. A lot of times they already have issues accessing care, whether that be reproductive care or primary care or any other type of health care. So we are definitely keeping that in mind moving forward.”
In a concurring opinion to the Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, Justice Clarence Thomas urged the court to examine a number of civil rights rulings, writing, “We have a duty to ‘correct the error’ established in those precedents.” Some advocates say this could be the beginning of other federally protected rights of minorities being overturned, such as same-sex marriage, which became the law of the land with the Obergefell v. Hodges case.
Brooks McLain, the Development Director with the HIV Alliance in Eugene, worked closely with Planned Parenthood in Springfield/Eugene to coordinate the Friday evening rally in downtown Eugene. Brooks pointed toward a need for inclusive language and the impact the ruling will have on transgender individuals. Anyone with a uterus is affected, he said.
“As it was mentioned in Justice Thomas’ opinion, they are thinking about rolling back other rights, too,” McLain said. “We don’t provide abortions at HIV Alliance, but this will impact our clients who are lower-income, indigenous, other communities of color and queer folks seeking gender-affirming care from other states. At its core, it’ll make wait times longer for people who live here and opens up the door for other rulings to come down the pipeline.”
For locals, Roe v. Wade being overturned touches on much more than abortion rights – it also brings up conversations about spirituality and personal responsibility.
Retired clergywoman Brenda Wills considers herself both pro-life and pro-choice. She served in the United Methodist Church across Lane County – in Cottage Grove, Drain and Yoncalla. “My faith is at the heart of everything I do,” Wills said. “The world is full of conflicts. And the Christian church is guilty of ignoring that unity for generations. So to say, I am pro-life is a way of humbly saying I’m trying to listen to those first people who taught us. And that means, fundamentally, I need to allow women to make their own choice. And people who believe that it’s a sin, to have an abortion should probably not have an abortion. But they should not be preventing my grandchildren from being able to have safe abortions.”
Laurel Henry from Creswell worked with at-risk teens aged 14-24 as a part of the Riverbend School. For her, some young women don’t have another choice. “They are just kids,” Henry said. “And I think we’re gonna end up having a lot of unwed mothers living in poverty and raising their kids in poverty. For some mothers this is about preserving their livelihoods and that doesn’t mean those decisions aren’t painful. No one is heartless. They are just doing the best they can – and it’s not some old man’s job to decide what young women do with their lives.”
State, local politicians weigh in
Local politicians weighed in over the weekend after the Supreme Court announced the decision.
Sen. Ron Wyden said in a statement Friday that the Supreme Court’s decision was “radical” and “tossed out a half-century of legal precedent” that “jeopardized the health and safety of millions of people across the country.” He called for voters to take their anger to the polls, to “expand majorities in the House and Senate that will do whatever it takes to codify Roe into law and expand access to safe, legal abortion nationwide.”
“This is going to be the fight of our lifetime, and I am all in to do what it takes to protect the right to safe and legal abortion for generations to come,” Wyden said.
County Commissioner-elect Dave Loveall who leads 316 Ministries, an international organization that builds structures in Uganda said, “From a personal standpoint, the church believes there is sanctity of life and the relationship that someone has with their Creator is by far the most important decisions they can make. What we have in this country is medical choice, and that is between your doctor and the Almighty – those are the issues that each person has to wrestle with on their own terms.”
Cottage Grove City Councilor Chalice Savage worked in outpatient surgery for many years at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). Savage supported women who chose to terminate their pregnancies for various reasons – both health choices and personal ones. “One of the very common procedures done in the surgery unit I worked in is what’s called a D&C (Dilation and curettage procedure),” Savage said. “There are many cases where a mother could die if a procedure like this isn’t done. There are so many different choices that people make. The decision to have an abortion is absolutely heartbreaking, and it’s not one made lightly.”
Springfield City Councilor Steve Moe said that he’s personally paid for some of his friends’ abortions and that for him, “it is never a man’s job to tell a woman what to do with her body.”
County Commissioner Heather Buch spoke about breaking the news to her daughter. “It was my mother’s generation that fought for this right,” Buch said. “And I was able to grow up with it. Now my daughter, if she lived in a different state, could live in a place that didn’t support her civil rights.” Buch also said that “local politicians, regardless of their positions, should comment on issues that affect their constituents.”
Gov. Kate Brown announced Friday that Oregon joined Washington and California in a multi-state commitment that protects reproductive health care. The three governors declared they would protect patients and doctors if attempts were made to enforce abortion bans in their states.
“Let me be clear: You cannot ban abortion, you can only ban safe abortions – and this disgraceful Supreme Court decision will undoubtedly put many people’s lives at risk, in addition to stripping away a constitutional right that disproportionately affects women and has been settled law for most of our lifetimes,” Brown said.