Board reaffirms commitment to reproductive freedom, abortion access

June 9, 2022

As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares a ruling on the most consequential abortion rights case since Roe v. Wade — a ruling that could overturn the right to safe and legal abortions — the Board of Commissioners on Thursday passed a resolution protecting access to reproductive freedom in Multnomah County.

The resolution reaffirms the Board’s commitment to reproductive freedom and access to abortions. And if reproductive freedoms are weakened or overturned at the federal and state level, the Board commits to considering immediate legislative action to protect the freedom for residents to make decisions about their reproductive health.

Grayson Dempsey, a spokesperson for the Lilith Clinic, said 25% of patients already come from out-of-state. She expects that to grown if Roe v Wade is overturned.
 “We’re proud to live in a state that has affirmed reproductive rights,” said Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson. “But the future is always uncertain, and circumstances can change quickly. This resolution states very clearly that if any action is taken that threatens our residents’ right to reproductive healthcare, we will take legislative action to protect those rights within Multnomah County.”

Over half of U.S. states are poised to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Last year, the nation saw the highest number of new abortion restrictions in a single year, including provisions that limit abortions before most people know they’re pregnant, and provisions that allow anyone to sue those who provide or support abortion care. Some states are even trying to limit someone’s ability to travel for safe, legal abortion care.

Abortion will remain legal in Oregon, however, protected by state laws, policies and funding. Consider:

  • State law prohibits a public body from depriving a consenting individual of the choice of terminating the individual’s pregnancy. 
  • The Oregon Constitution includes an equal rights amendment that should also protect the right to an abortion. 
  • The state provides public funding for abortion and requires private insurance coverage of abortion. 
  • This year the Oregon Legislature appropriated $15 million to the Reproductive Health Equity Fund to provide immediate support, including travel expenses and lodging, for people seeking abortions in Oregon.
  • The state protects clinic safety and access by prohibiting the obstruction of healthcare facilities.

“Feminism has taught us that the personal is political, and the political is personal,” said Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, who has shared her own story about choosing an abortion.

“My individual ability to choose an abortion depended on our collective right to choose abortion,” she said. “And any restriction on the right to abortion, whether it happens in Idaho or in Texas or in Mississippi, is a restriction on my rights, and on our rights here in Multnomah County.”

Dr. Stella Dantas, an obstetrician at Kaiser Permanente, said her role is to improve people's lives by giving them all of their options, without restriction, and then supporting them in their choices. She said it’s scary to think she’s entering a time when her relationship with patients is not respected or protected.

“Health policy is best based on scientific facts to provide safe high-quality care and should be free of political interference,” she said. 

Dr. Maria Rodriguez, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Oregon Health & Science University said her clinic sees some of the most complicated cases in abortion care. And she fears her ability to meet that need will be tested if the U.S. Supreme Court strips people of their federal abortion rights. 

The Guttmacher Institute estimates Oregon abortion providers will see a 234% increase in demand if federal protection is overturned. Rodriguez worries providers might not be able to meet that increased need. And she’s even more concerned for those who cannot afford to travel and who live in the 26 states that are planning to restrict abortion access.

“As we stare headlong into a post-Roe world, we must recognize that making abortion illegal will not stop abortions. It just makes it less accessible and more unsafe,” she said.

With federal abortion protections, the medical procedure has become among the safest in the United States. More than 600,000 procedures were performed in 2019, the most recent year for which data was available. In fact, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine published a study in 2018 confirming that scientific evidence consistently indicates legal abortions in the United States are extremely safe. 

OHSU is among just five clinics that provide abortions in Multnomah County. Planned Parenthood and the Lilith Clinic also perform the procedure.

At the Lilith Clinic, which opened in March 2021 and offers abortions up to 22 weeks into pregnancy, 25% of patients are already traveling from other states — with almost half of those travelers coming from Texas, where abortions are banned after six weeks and people must jump through hoops to complete care.

“No one should have to leave their community for this safe and common healthcare procedure,” said Grayson Dempsey, a spokesperson for the Lilith Clinic. “But for those who must, we will always be here to welcome and care for them.”

Chair Kafoury thanked the speakers.

“I’m grateful and proud to live in a state that has, over the years, shown up for women who need these services,” she said. “It has taken a lot of hard work advocating the legislature. It has been session after session after session. And when people said, ‘why are you bringing this up? We are safe here.’ We always knew it's not luck. It’s hard work.”