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Oregon Pro-Choice Advocates Mount Defense of State Funding for Abortion Care

Nicole Knight

"The good news is Oregon is a pro-choice state and we have a pro-choice electorate. We know that voters largely recognize these attempts to reduce access for what they are."

Pro-choice activists mounted a counterattack the moment word spread: An Oregon ballot initiative to ban state funding for abortion care had gained enough signatures to appear on the November ballot.

Within 48 hours, more than 1,000 Oregonians had promised to vote no to Measure 106, organizers said.

The site NoCutstoCare.com went live with this message: Measure 106 would amend the state constitution to strip abortion insurance coverage from some 327,000 Oregon women. These were low-income women of reproductive age with public insurance or women with government jobs.

“This would really dramatically decrease access to abortion for many, many women in Oregon, including the most vulnerable who really already face high barriers to care,” said Grayson Dempsey, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon. NARAL is part of the campaign opposing Measure 106 that includes the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, the Oregon Nurses Association, and Catholics for Choice.

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The anti-abortion insurance initiative isn’t new. But this year is the first time it will appear before voters after three failed attempts to qualify for the ballot. The Oregon secretary of state verified the signatures last week.

Dempsey is skeptical that voters in a state without a single restriction on abortion care will support Measure 106.

“The good news is Oregon is a pro-choice state and we have a pro-choice electorate,” Dempsey told Rewire.News. “We know that voters largely recognize these attempts to reduce access for what they are.”

A July poll of Oregon voters found 53 percent opposed a “ban on the ability to obtain an abortion in Oregon,” as Northwest Public Broadcasting reported. About one-third said they’d support a ban. 

Oregon is one of 17 states that cover abortion under Medicaid, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The use of direct federal funds for abortion is illegal under the federal Hyde Amendment in all 50 states, except in rare circumstances. Last year, Oregon’s Democratic-led state legislature went a step further, extending abortion coverage and other reproductive services to undocumented immigrants.

It’s unclear how the measure’s backers intend to mobilize the state’s 2.7 million registered voters, about 36 percent of whom are registered Democrats.

Campaign records indicate the political action committee Stop the Funding spent at least $120,000 in in-kind contributions, typically goods or services, this year to get the initiative on the ballot. The PAC now has $900 cash on hand.

Jeff Jimerson, the head of Oregon Life United and the PAC’s chief organizer and main sponsor of Measure 106, did not respond to Rewire.News‘ request for comment. Jimerson told Oregon Public Broadcasting that Measure 106, if successful, wouldn’t outlaw abortion, but it might force pregnant people to reconsider their decision by adding “a little bit of a speed bump.”

NARAL’s Dempsey said the last time a similar proposition appeared on the ballot in the state was 1986. It failed.

In 2016, during an attempt to qualify the measure the ballot, the state supreme court ordered Jimerson to change the ballot language. The sponsors were forced to make it clear that the measure’s overarching effect was to deny abortion coverage to people with low incomes, as Rewire.News reported.

The measure’s title now says Measure 106 “reduces abortion access.” 

“I do feel confident that doing the hard work, and reaching voters, that we will be able to defeat this in November,” Dempsey said.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated the number of states that cover abortion under Medicaid. It is 17, not 19.

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