Overturning Roe v. Wade would strain local abortion access, clinics with out-of-state patients, Planned Parenthood leaders say

Salem’s Planned Parenthood clinic on Northeast Wolverine Street on Tuesday, May 3 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Local Planned Parenthood leaders said Tuesday that abortion providers will be inundated with out-of-state patients that they lack the staffing and space to treat if a draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade becomes a reality.

The leaders said that even if federal law is overturned, abortion will remain legal in Salem and across Oregon.

They and other providers reacted after the draft opinion was leaked to Politico. Chief Justice John Roberts verified its authenticity on Tuesday. The ruling would come in a challenge to a Mississippi law banning nearly all 15-week abortions.

Anne Udall, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Columbia Willamette, said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon that their health centers are expecting a dramatic increase in patients with Idaho poised to ban all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy once the law is overturned.

She cited a Guttmacher Institute study that estimated the number of women whose nearest abortion provider is in Oregon would more than double as such bans are likely in 26 states.

“This leak makes it very clear that our deepest fears are coming through,” said Lisa Gardner, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon, at the conference. “We are at a crisis moment for abortion access. The Supreme Court is acting in defiance of the American people.”

Abortion remains legal in Oregon under state law without restriction, and Oregon is one of the few states that covers the cost of abortion for people insured through Oregon Health Plan, the state’s publicly-funded Medicaid program.

State data shows about 7,000 abortions were performed in Oregon in 2020, including 624 in Marion County and 99 in Polk County.

(Graphic by Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

(Graphic by Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

A 2017 state law, the Reproductive Health Equity Act, mandated private insurers also cover abortion with no cost to the patient, and provided state money to cover the cost of abortion and postpartum care for immigrants who otherwise would not have been eligible for state insurance.

Planned Parenthood operates one clinic in Salem on Northeast Wolverine Street. The clinic provides both medication abortions, where a provider prescribes a pill to induce miscarriage, and surgical abortions, according to its website. Planned Parenthood clinics offer medication abortion up to 11 weeks and surgical up to 17 weeks and six days of pregnancy, said Kristi Scdoris, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette.

Salem Health, the region’s largest health care provider, does not provide abortions, spokeswoman Lisa Wood said.

“We understand there are strong opinions and sincerely held beliefs on both sides of this issue. As a draft ruling, comment on its impact would be speculative at this time. Referral decisions remain between the patient and their provider,” Wood said in an email Tuesday.

The Planned Parenthood in Salem drew police response in July 2021 to a violent clash at an event organized by the Church at Planned Parenthood, which opposes abortion, in front of the health clinic. At least two men faced charges following the July 13 event, where members of the Proud Boys fought with counter protesters.

Joshua Dornon, 39, of Woodburn, pleaded guilty April 7 to unlawful use of a weapon and was sentenced to two days in Marion County Jail and three years of bench probation. The charge alleges Dornon attempted to use a metal canister another person, according to an indictment. Charges of riot and attempted third-degree assault were dismissed as part of his plea deal.

A grand jury in Marion County on July 22 also indicted 65-year-old Ricky Clark, of Beaverton, on charges of riot and attempted third-degree assault. A trial in that case is scheduled to start June 21. The charges allege Clark and at least five others engaged in “tumultuous and violent conduct,” and that Clark attempted to physically injure a person while being aided by another person. The same victim is named in both Clark’s and Dornon’s indictments.

Udall said they have seen increased protests at Planned Parenthood health centers in the Northwest, but that there have been “very, very few” in Salem since the July clash.

“That was an unusual couple of days in Salem. I don’t think we have seen a recurrence of that,” she said.

The last protest at the Salem Planned Parenthood was a permitted event on Feb. 27, which the Salem Police Department did not respond to, according to Angie Hedrick, Salem police spokeswoman.

Lois Anderson, executive director of Keizer-based Oregon Right to Life, said the group would continue pushing for laws to limit abortions in Oregon to the first two trimesters of pregnancy.

Oregon Health Authority’s published data on abortions does not indicate when during a pregnancy an abortion took place, but third trimester abortions are rare, accounting for about 1% of all abortions in the U.S., according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, and generally performed due to fetal abnormalities or serious health concerns.

“We’re looking forward to an opportunity to really discuss some of those policies,” Anderson told Salem Reporter.

She acknowledged that public opinion in Oregon wouldn’t support a ban on abortion.

“Oregon is not going to be one of those places that is an abortion-free state,” she said. “The pro-life movement has largely taken an incremental approach based on what the majority of people in their state are willing to do.”

Anderson said Oregon Right to Life would also continue advocating for policies to support parents, including diverting state funds used to provide abortions through Medicaid to financially support

“We want to be sure that women are supported, that they have the resources they need to embrace life and give life to their child,” she said.

Since Texas limited abortion care beyond six weeks of pregnancy in September 2021, Gardner said many women who couldn’t afford to travel out of state have been forced to carry pregnancies or leave the state for abortions outside the health care system. She said restricting access to abortion also disproportionately impacts low-income residents and people of color.

An Do, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, said the anticipated rise in people seeking abortions in Marion County and across the state won’t increase the number of providers or exam rooms overnight.

“I think part of thinking about what is necessary is actually really investing in our health care infrastructure and expanding provider capacity to meet that moment,” she said at the conference.

Leslie Dunlap, a professor of history at Willamette University who studies gender and social movements, said it’s possible the decision could create new momentum for social movements that advocate for pro-family policies like paid child leave and better support for parents.

But she said it’s also likely to further entrench divisions between Americans who support abortion being legal and those who don’t, and widen the gulf between women who have the resources to seek abortions and those who can’t access abortion care.

“I think it’s going to really deepen class and race divisions between women,” she said.

Dunlap said as the draft opinion mentions American values and tradition as a basis for overturning Roe, it’s important to acknowledge that abortion was legal in the U.S. until the late 19th century, and generally accepted until “quickening” – the point where women felt a fetus move inside them.

“A return to traditional values and founding values is a return to acknowledging women’s knowledge of their own bodies,” she said. “I think there’s some misuses of history happening.”

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053. Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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