In Salem, abortion circumstances aren’t likely to change despite Supreme Court case

Hundreds of people marched down Court Street in Salem on Tuesday, May 3 for an abortion rights rally following the leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion which would overturn Roe v. Wade. Another protest in Salem is planned following the release of the final ruling on June 24 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Public officials and community leaders in Salem both pro- and anti-abortion rights largely agree the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Friday to overturn Roe v. Wade won’t impact its legality in Oregon.

But following the landmark decision, those supporting the right to abortion told Salem Reporter the state needs to shore up access, while those opposing abortion hope to see state policy limit the procedure without banning it outright.

“We knew this was coming, but it was still a gut punch this morning,” Sen. Deb Patterson told Salem Reporter.

Patterson, a Salem Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Health Care, said the right to abortion is “settled” in Oregon with the passage of the 2017 Reproductive Health Equity Act, which mandates insurers in Oregon cover abortion procedures and costs for people who are on Medicaid or uninsured. That includes people without legal documentation to live in the U.S.

Now, she said it’s more important than ever the Legislature preserve such laws and “particularly to reach out to folks in eastern Oregon and rural communities where folks don’t have access.”

Patterson said she also sees a need for legislators to do more in general to ensure reproductive health care is affordable and accessible to all Oregonians, including requiring insurance coverage for in-vitro fertilization.

“People should be able to choose whether and when or not to start a family,” she said.

Few local elected officials in Salem made public statements about the decision. Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett declined to comment, saying abortion was not a city government issue, and Marion County Commission Chair Danielle Bethell didn’t respond to a voice message and email Friday.

“​​A frightening, dystopian, and evil decision from the Supreme Court in overturning Roe,” City Councilor Tom Andersen wrote in a statement on Facebook. Andersen’s term on the city council concludes at the end of the year, and he is running as the Democratic nominee for House District 19.

“After I am elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in November, I will do everything I can to ensure that Oregon women continue to control their own reproductive health and maintain control over their bodies – not the government (through the courts or through legislation),” he wrote.

At Oregon Right to Life, a Keizer-based anti-abortion advocacy group, Executive Director Lois Anderson said the ruling was welcome.

“This is a day that, for many in the pro-life movement, they had come to believe would never happen, so it’s very encouraging,” she said. “It’s a well-written, well-reasoned decision and it’s a good day for Oregon and the United States.”

Anderson acknowledged a majority of Oregonians believe abortion should be legal in at least some cases, but said a ban on the procedure after 20 weeks should be considered.

“We do need to look at what makes the most sense for both the legislative process as well as what Oregonians will support. Oregonians over the years have been really consistently uncomfortable with late-term abortions so I think that that’s a good place to focus,” she said.

Salem nonprofits that refer people to health care or provide related services won’t change their offerings, but leaders of several organizations said the ruling would likely impact their clients.

​​“Regardless of someone’s position on the issue, victims of domestic and sexual violence are uniquely impacted by any law that removes options and choices for them,” said Jayne Downing, executive director of Salem’s Center for Hope and Safety. “The power and control dynamics inherent in domestic and sexual violence make choices for victims extremely limited. Often, they are denied access to birth control measures, or (not) allowed to make any choices regarding their own bodies, by their abusive partner. We will continue to support survivors, without judgment, with the difficult choices they are often forced to make.”

Mike Reid, executive director of Hope Pregnancy Clinic in northeast Salem, said the ruling won’t change the services they offer, but the clinic 10 days ago posted security guards onsite every night, seven days a week.

Hope Pregnancy Clinic is a crisis pregnancy center which “exists to empower women who are unprepared for pregnancy to make healthy, life-affirming decisions, and to introduce them to Jesus,” according to its website.

The clinic provides free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and pre-medical consultations for women who are newly pregnant, and often low income, and does not provide or refer clients to abortions.

Reid said they decided to take precautions following recent attacks on pregnancy clinics in Oregon. Federal agents said last week they were investigating a fire at a Gresham pregnancy center that was caused by an incendiary device thrown through a window, and a Portland clinic in May had windows broken and hateful messages spray painted on its wall, according to reporting from the Oregonian/OregonLive.

“There’s folks out trying to hurt pregnancy centers like we’re responsible for this, Roe v. Wade being turned around,” Reid said.

Reid said the Supreme Court decision is “not going to change anything” for Oregonians. “Nothing will stop women from being able to have full abortion access in Oregon,” he said.

Regarding the decision itself, he said, “I trust the Supreme Court to be wise and make good decisions.”

Levi Herrera-Lopez, executive director of Mano a Mano, said his employees help connect clients to needed medical care, including reproductive health care and abortion.

The organization, which provides social services for many farmworker and Latino families in the Salem area, believes safe, legal access to abortion is important. That’s based on the views of their clients.

“A lot of our Latino community has very strong feelings often influenced by religion and cultural upbringing around the idea of abortion,” he said. But a majority of clients they’ve surveyed felt equally that abortion “was a personal decision and access should not be restricted by the government.”

“That’s a nuance that I think is lost sometimes,” Herrera-Lopez said.

Herrera-Lopez said the ruling won’t change services they provide, but he echoed Patterson’s concern that abortion remain accessible, particularly those in rural and more conservative areas who may not be able to access a clinic.

“Even though the health care is out there, even though the resources at the state level are approved, there are some counties where on the ground there may not be enough providers available to people,” he said.

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

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