Commissioners honor abortion providers, vow to continue protecting reproductive rights

March 10, 2023

Dr. Julia Tasset was interviewing nationally for prospective abortion training in July 2021. At the top of the obstetrician-gynecologist’s mind was what would happen if the U.S. Supreme Court removed abortion protection, a decision then being debated in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Dr. Julia Tasset, a provider at OHSU, specializes in abortion care.

Tasset found that Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) was one of the only programs that provided her with positive answers: "We are protected by our state," staff told her, "we are prioritized within our institution and we are uplifted by our community."

Tasset packed her life into her car and moved 2,500 miles across the country to learn from experts who craft evidence-based abortion policy and practice. She crossed the border into Oregon on June 24, 2022, the same day abortion protections that had been guaranteed for nearly 50 years under Roe v. Wade ended with the Dobbs decision announcement.

“If I wanted to learn how to provide complex abortion care with minimal unnecessary interference, Portland seemed like one of the only places left which could still provide it,” Tasset told the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners on Thursday, March 9. The physician was among a slate of abortion providers formally honored with a proclamation.

Since she arrived eight months ago, Tasset has provided care for patients from across Oregon, but also across the country and even across the world. This experience has shown her the deeply human experience of abortion. 

“Everyone I have provided care to has confronted the full spectrum of emotion that an abortion entails — hope, fear, joy, sorrow, indifference, passion — all, ultimately, rooted in the fundamental truth that every person has the wisdom and the right to decide what is right for themselves and their body,” Tasset said. 

“I want to express gratitude for those people struggling around the country to provide care in the face of government interference and threats,” she told commissioners. “We should also hold in our thoughts those patients whose rights have been violated in seeking reproductive healthcare, and honor them in continuing this work in the future.”

Honoring providers past and present, protecting rights

Commissioners Susheela Jayapal and Diane Rosenbaum brought forward the proclamation declaring March 10, 2023 as Abortion Provider Appreciation Day in Multnomah County. It is the second time the Board has made such a proclamation. Nationally, March 10 has been the National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers since Dr. David Gunn was murdered by a white supremacist anti-abortion extremist in 1993. Since then, at least six other providers have been killed because they provided abortions as part of their reproductive healthcare services.

The day provides a way to honor the life and work of Gunn and to celebrate the resilience and commitment of those who continue to provide abortion care with courage, compassion and dedication — often at great risk of personal and professional peril. Five clinics provide abortions in Multnomah County, including OHSU, Planned Parenthood and the Lilith Clinic. Representatives from those clinics and from Northwest Abortion Access Fund, along with Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, joined together Thursday to honor Abortion Provider Appreciation Day.

Abortion is among the safest medical procedures in the United States; 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. 

Abortion was legal in the United States for 50 years, ever since the Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution protects a woman’s right to choose an abortion in January 1972. Oregon has long had few restrictions on abortions.

Then, in June 2022 the Supreme Court struck down both Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, granting individual states the right to regulate any aspect of abortion. That decision has fueled a cascade of restrictions on abortion and miscarriage procedures, and medications. In response to the outlawing of some or all of the procedure in up to 24 states, the Oregon Legislature created a $15 million Reproductive Health Equity Fund to provide immediate support, including travel expenses and lodging, for people seeking abortions in Oregon. In the current legislative session, House Bill 2002 has been introduced as a measure to protect reproductive health equity and gender affirming care in Oregon. 

Despite practicing in an area with a reputation for holding values that affirm reproductive choice and freedom, local providers have endured harassment and protests that disrupt patient care, burden clinics, and stigmatize providers and those they serve.

“Being an abortion care provider has always required compassion and courage to walk alongside a person and support their autonomy in making decisions about their bodies, lives and futures — and providers do so in the face of increasing restrictions, political interference and threats to their personal safety,” said Commissioner Rosenbaum. 

Attorney General Rosenblum told commissioners that in January 2023, her office launched the Oregon Reproductive Rights Hotline. Anyone can call 503-431-6460 and have access to free, confidential legal guidance and counseling on the status of Oregon laws related to abortion and reproductive healthcare. 

“In a time like this, clean and accurate information is power,” said Rosenblum. “We need to be sure Oregon residents and nonresidents alike understand that abortion remains legal and accessible because abortion is healthcare. And healthcare is a human right.” 

Without abortion providers, she continued, “even the best laws in the country, which we have here in Oregon, would be meaningless.”  

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum explains the new Oregon Reproductive Rights Hotline.

[Download and post this “Abortion is Healthcare” poster]

However, the Dobbs decision continues to threaten access to abortion care for over one-third of all Americans. As of March 10, 2023, abortions are banned in 12 states with very limited exceptions and are unavailable in an additional two. Eight states have bans that are currently blocked by a court order. The Guttmacher Institute has estimated that nearly half of all states are likely to ban or significantly restrict abortion in the near future. As accessing abortion care becomes more challenging across the country, protecting abortion care in Oregon, and especially in Multnomah County, becomes even more essential.

“This is our first time gathering to honor Abortion Provider Appreciation Day in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling,” said Rosenbaum. “In this moment, it is imperative to clearly and unequivocally reaffirm our commitment to protecting and advancing reproductive freedom in Multnomah County. And to do that — to protect and advance access to abortion care — necessarily means protecting and supporting providers.” 

“I’m reminded of how much the world has changed since I brought forward our first Abortion Appreciation Day proclamation last year” said Jayapal. “I want to extend my serious gratitude to our abortion providers that continue to courageously care for Oregonians as well as our out-of-state patients so they can access the care they need.” 

Abortion care is healthcare

In 1988, Jayapal was a 25-year-old living in San Francisco and studying for the bar exam when she found out she was pregnant. 

“I was young and unsure of my place in the world and of who I was, let alone who I wanted to be. So I chose myself,” she said during Thursday’s proclamation. 

Commissioner Susheela Jayapal told her own story. “I was young and unsure of my place in the world...So I chose myself," she said.

“My decision to have an abortion wasn’t easy, but it was clear, and I’ve never regretted it,” Jayapal said. “At the time, I was engaged, financially stable and able to access care with little effort, but that’s not the case for many people, especially now as abortion bans go into effect across the country.”

Leela Yellesetty, the Funding Hotline Lead for the Northwest Abortion Access Fund, shared that her organization has worked with patients from 30 different states already in 2023. In the past six months, staff have seen a fivefold increase in clients traveling to Oregon from the southern United States alone. 

“Regardless of the law, people will continue to need abortion access and providers and funds like ours are here to ensure they can do so safely and affordably,” Yellesetty told the commissioners.   

Grayson Dempsey, a representative of the Lilith Clinic, an independent abortion clinic in Portland, commended Oregon’s efforts to remain an open and welcoming pro-choice state. 

“Supporting abortion providers means our community welcomes and protects our clinics,” Dempsey said. “It means working to the fullest extent to eliminate barriers for those who face the highest obstacles to care. It means that all people have the same ability to access safe and compassionate abortion care whenever they need it.

“Abortion providers are the front lines of reproductive health, rights and justice.”

The Board of Commissioners declared March 10, 2022 Abortion Provider Appreciation Day in Multnomah County

Commissioner Lori Stegmann thanked the providers and advocates who spoke Thursday and all abortion providers in the community. 

“Abortion can often be portrayed as a complex and controversial issue, but one thing is clear: all women, trans men, gender non-binary and all others who can become pregnant should have access to safe and legal abortion services,” she said. “Access to safe abortion is a fundamental right, and it is essential that we protect and support that right.”

Commissioner Sharon Meieran, who is also a physician and prior medical director for the Oregon Foundation for Reproductive Health, commended the courage and perseverance of abortion providers, organizations and individuals who continue to fight to make sure everyone has the right to choose their reproductive path, including abortion. 

“In Multnomah County, we see abortion for what it is: abortion is healthcare,” she said.

Chair Jessica Vega Pederson shared that on the day Roe v. Wade was repealed, she wrote down her initial thoughts about how angry she was that the decision was only the start of efforts to restrict abortion rights.

“On that day, I was heartbroken knowing that my daughter will grow up in a country where her ability to make choices of if, when, and how to have children will depend on which state she lives in,” Vega Pederson said.  

But, she said, she “saw that the moment called for me, for us, to commit to fighting back.” 

Vega Pederson closed by thanking the providers being honored, not just for herself but also on behalf of her daughter. 

“Without your work, none of our work to open up access would even matter,” Vega Pederson said. “It is because of you that people in younger generations know their choices are going to be protected here in Oregon and here in Multnomah County.”