Oregon state legislators are preparing for the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, which has guaranteed abortion rights nationwide for nearly 50 years.
Last week, four members of Oregon’s Legislature, including the Democratic leaders of each chamber, met with White House cabinet members and other legislators from Washington, California, Illinois, Maryland, Connecticut and New York to discuss what they’ve done to protect abortion rights and what more is needed to ensure access.
All of the states have either passed legislation to expand and protect access to abortions or are in the process of doing so.
Oregon stood out as a leader, according to Representative Julie Fahey, Democrat from Eugene and House majority leader, who attended the one-hour online meeting last week.
“One of the things that stood out to me was how well prepared we are,” Fahey said, referring to Oregon.
She was joined in the discussion by the Senate majority leader, Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, Senator Deb Patterson, D-Salem, and Representative Andrea Valderrama, D-Portland.
In 2017, Oregon became the first state to codify abortion rights into law — and guarantee free coverage. In the February legislative session, lawmakers allocated $15 million to expand access to abortion care.
That money was approved in anticipation of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against Roe in a Mississippi case.
A confirmed draft of an opinion in that case, written by conservative Justice Samuel Alito and leaked early this month by Politico, is clear in its intent: “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” it said.
Politico said four other conservative justices — identified as Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — supported that opinion, making a majority. An official ruling is expected in June.
If the court overturns Roe, so-called trigger laws in about a dozen states, including Idaho, will go into effect banning abortions. States with abortion protections, including those that participated in the online White House meeting, expect to become a refuge for women seeking abortions.
Fahey said cooperation among these states is critical.
“I came away heartened that there is a group of people across the country who are really committed to protecting access in their states,” Fahey said. “No matter what happens nationally, we’re these bulwarks where people will always have access to care.”
In the meeting, California legislators discussed a package of 13 bills they’re trying to pass, Fahey said. One proposal that cleared the California Assembly on Monday would protect California providers from out-of-state lawsuits. In Maryland, lawmakers are trying to expand training of abortion providers.
That’s something Fahey plans to take to a legislative work group on abortion access and rights that will meet this summer.
Announced last week by state House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, it will also consider ways to protect the LGBTQ community, ensure that Oregonians have access to gender-affirming care and contraceptives.
Democratic legislators — and others — worry that the Supreme Court could undermine those rights as well.
The group will include four Democratic state lawmakers — Rayfield, Representative Travis Nelson of Portland and Senators Kate Lieber of Beaverton and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward of Portland. Nelson is a nurse, and Steiner Hayward is a physician.
The group is still being formed but Rayfield’s spokesman, Danny Moran, said that participants will include representatives from Planned Parenthood, Basic Rights Oregon, which advocates for LBGTQ communities, and Lilith Clinic, a reproductive care facility in Portland.
An Do, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, which will take part in the work group, said legalizing abortion rights does not guarantee access.
“This work group will engage community and providers to assess the gaps in access that need to be addressed and protections that need to be put in place for patients, providers and assisters given the onslaught of anti-abortion and anti-trans legislation being passed in states with legislatures that are hostile to our rights over our bodies and our futures,” Do said.
The work group will work on proposals for the 2023 legislative session. They could be policy, administrative or budget proposals to protect, strengthen and expand equitable access to reproductive and gender-affirming care. Recommendations could cover LGBTQ children and adults.
Rayfield and others worry that the U.S. Supreme Court could attack contraceptives and gay marriage. The group will look at gaps in state legislation to pre-emptively protect vulnerable groups, a news release said.
Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum will take part in the group.
“It’s an all-hands on deck moment,” Rosenblum said in a statement. “Oregon can and must continue to be a leader for reproductive justice.”
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