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Abortion access, ghost gun bills pass Legislature, head to governor

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By PETER WONG
Oregon Capital Bureau

Gov. Tina Kotek is the final stop for two much-debated and amended bills to ensure access to abortion and other reproductive and gender-affirming care and to ban guns made with untraceable parts.

The Oregon House gave final approval to both bills, largely on party-line votes on Wednesday, June 21, after the Senate amended and passed them as part of a compromise that ended a 42-day walkout by minority Republicans. The walkout deprived Democrats of a two-thirds requirement (20 of 30) for the Senate to conduct business.

Kotek is likely to sign both.

In contrast to the House debates on the original bills May 1 and 2 — lasting six and three hours, respectively — relatively little was said this time.

House Bill 2002 emerged from a work group appointed last year by House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, just before the U.S. Supreme Court reversed its 1973 decision (Roe v. Wade) holding that abortion is a protected right under the federal Constitution. The 2022 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization left it to the states; 14 of them, including Idaho, have since banned or restricted abortion.

Oregon lawmakers removed penalties for abortion in 1969.

Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland, said most of the bill remains intact.

“It closes gaps in insurance coverage for gender-affirming care, contraceptives and abortion,” said Nosse, who leads the House health care panel.

“It protects licensed Oregon providers from criminal and civil liability for supporting or providing reproductive and gender-affirming health care that is legal in our state. It defends Oregon health centers and providers from unlawful harassment and abuse, safeguards the confidentiality and privacy of those providers, and protects patients from criminalization for receiving, supporting or accessing reproductive health care in our state.”

But the amended version does these things:

  • Excludes sterilization of a minor under age 15 as an allowed procedure.
  • For minors under age 15, two medical providers acting independently can determine that parental involvement is not in the best interest of a minor. A provider can also determine that parental involvement would result in neglect to or physical and emotional abuse of the minor. According to the Oregon Health Authority, only 14 of 7,109 abortions reported in 2021 involved minors under 15.
  • Clarifies that picketing is not considered interference with a health care facility, which the bill creates as a new crime with maximum penalties of 364 days in jail and a $6,250 fine.
  • Removes a proposed expansion of medication abortion to clinics at universities and rural areas.

 

The amended bill won support from 34 of the 35 Democrats — Rep. Daniel Nguyen of Lake Oswego was excused — and Republican Rep. Charlie Conrad of Dexter. It was opposed by the 12 Republicans in the chamber — 11 others chose to be excused instead of being present — and the other Republican was excused for House business.

Rep. Christine Goodwin of Roseburg was one of five first- or second-term Republicans who spoke against it, although she acknowledged that opponents could not stop it.

“What purpose does it serve? Abortion rights were never in jeopardy,” Goodwin said.

“We are an extreme abortion state and that will not change due to the Supreme Court decision. Our state will follow its own state statutes on abortion. The bill seeks to normalize gender confusion. Instead, we should be taking a serious look at the social contagion that is sweeping our country and the growing mental health crisis with our young… This bill has been an enormous waste of energy and fixes nothing.”

House Bill 2005, which passed 34-14 along party lines, was stripped down to the original proposal by Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. She has been trying for such legislation for four years.

The amended version was rewritten to adopt the federal definition of so-called ghost guns made with untraceable parts. State penalties would start on Sept. 1, 2024, to allow time for people to obtain serial numbers for such guns.

But the bill dropped two other sections.

One would have barred people between 18 and 21 from obtaining semiautomatic weapons and limit their access to rifles and shotguns. (Federal law sets age 21 for people buying handguns from a licensed dealer.)

The other would have empowered local governments, other than schools, to bar firearms from public buildings and grounds — even those possessed by holders of concealed-handgun licenses. Public schools, community colleges and universities got authority in 2021 to impose such bans, and the bill does not change that.

“I preferred the base bill,” said Rep. Jason Kropf, D-Bend, the bill’s floor manager. “But this legislation is important … and will help prevent those type of firearms from being in our community.”

Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, said: “What the provision really amounts to is a punishment of lawful gun owners in the name of punishing the bad.”

Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, voted for the amended bill with misgivings. Evans, an Air National Guard veteran with service in Kuwait and Afghanistan and military aide to Gov. Ted Kulongoski from 2007 to 2010, helped craft the original bill.

“I am struggling with this bill because I do believe that weapons that are unserialized because someone has made them and then chosen not to serialize them creates a problem,” Evans said.

Though Evans said the amended bill will do “marginal good,” he also said that critics of legislation are opening the way for a more restrictive statewide ballot initiative to ban assault-style semiautomatic weapons — and far-reaching statewide standards, instead of local options, to regulate possession of firearms in public places.

“When compromise and a middle ground is offered,” Evans said, “some people aren’t interested.”

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