Oregon News

Oregon House passes bill ensuring access to abortion and gender-affirming health care

By PETER WONG
Oregon Capital Bureau

The Oregon House, after a six-hour debate that resulted in a lot of emotion but changed no minds, passed legislation that builds on the state’s 2017 law ensuring access to abortion and other reproductive and gender-affirming health care.

The vote on Monday night, May 1, was 36-23. One Republican, Charlie Conrad of Lowell, joined all 35 Democrats to vote for it. All other Republicans voted against it, except Rep. James Hieb of Canby, who left the chamber and said earlier that he questioned the legality of the proceedings.

House Bill 2002 now heads to the Senate, which can take only an up-or-down vote on it, given that it has gone through the Legislature’s joint budget committee.

The debate, one of the longest in either chamber in recent memory, started only after the House used a machine to read aloud the bill’s 46 pages. Republicans declined to waive a constitutional requirement, normally done, that all bills are read in their entirety prior to final votes. The machine reading took 2½ hours.

All but two of the 25 Republicans spoke against it. Aside from the bill’s two floor managers, only seven of the 35 Democrats spoke for it.

“Oregonians believe in a right to abortion and that health care should be accessible,” said Rep. Rob Nosse, a Democrat from Portland and chair of the House health care panel. “They have shown that time and time again in polling and elections.”

Oregon removed criminal penalties for abortion in 1969, four years before the U.S. Supreme Court declared it a federal constitutional right in Roe v. Wade. The state began funding abortions for low-income women in 1977, the year after Congress barred federal funds for most abortions. Oregon voters have rejected six ballot initiatives to ban or restrict abortion — some of them proposing requirements for parental notification — between 1978 and 2018.

“But it will rob parents of their roles in their child’s life,” House Republican Leader Vikki Breese-Iverson of Prineville said.

Republican legislative majorities passed a parental-notification bill in 1999, but Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber, a physician, vetoed it. No override was attempted.

Democrats on party-line votes defeated nine Republican attempts to sidetrack the bill, including motions to refer it to other committees, and even challenges based on the readability of the summary prepared by legislative staff. “There are so many unanswered questions,” Breese-Iverson said, echoing comments by other Republicans.

“Today, we witnessed the pro-abortion majority’s unswerving commitment to ramming through this radical bill with minimal public input,” said Lois Anderson, executive director of Oregon Right to Life. “Despite unanswered questions in committee and well-reasoned objections from pro-life representatives during today’s floor session, the majority advanced this dangerous bill forward.”

But House Majority Whip Andrea Valderrama, a Democrat from east Portland and the bill’s other floor manager, said the legislation attempts to broaden access to care in rural and other underserved communities.

“I believe we are failing Oregonians, many of whom have to travel hundreds of miles to get access to care,” she said.

The bill would require two clinics to offer such care in rural areas, and a pilot project for higher education to enable people to obtain access to emergency care and medication, now the most common method of inducing abortion.

Todd Addams, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon — the state’s leading gay rights and transgender advocacy organization — said this in a statement: “Every Oregonian deserves access to life-saving medical care, and we know doctors should make decisions based on medical best practices, not politics. HB 2002 will change lives and save lives, and we applaud each representative who voted for it today.”

Among key provisions of HB 2002:

  • It says: “Every individual has a fundamental right to make decisions about the individual’s reproductive health, including the right to make decisions about the individuals’ reproductive health care, to use or refuse contraception, to continue the individual’s pregnancy and give birth or to terminate the individual’s pregnancy.”
  • It creates a new crime of interference with a health care facility, sets maximum penalties of 364 days in jail — one day short of a felony qualifying for state prison — and a fine of $6,250.
  • It empowers individuals to go to court to enforce their rights.
  • It safeguards gender-affirming health care for minors and others.
  • It provides legal protection for providers who carry out procedures allowed under Oregon law, plus patients and others who assist them, even if they are from other states where such care may not be legal. It blocks Oregon courts and agencies from cooperating with out-of-state investigations.

 

The bill resulted from a work group named last year by House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, just before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its 1973 decision in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that returned the issue to states.

Oregon lawmakers, anticipating such a decision years ago, passed the Reproductive Health Equity Act that Gov. Kate Brown signed in 2017. The House speaker at the time was Tina Kotek — a Democrat who is now governor.

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