Health officials launch website to ease abortion access as Supreme Court hears anti-abortion case • Oregon Capital Chronicle
Health officials launch website to ease abortion access as Supreme Court hears anti-abortion case • Oregon Capital Chronicle

Oregon health officials launched a website to make it easier for women to access abortions Tuesday, the same day the U.S. Supreme Court heard another abortion lawsuit brought by groups hoping to limit access to the abortion pill.

The timing is no coincidence, according to health authority spokesman Larry Bingham.

“With the national conversation and confusion surrounding reproductive health, we wanted to make sure Oregonians have accurate, factual information and access to resources and services about abortions that are legal in our state,” Bingham said in an email.

The Access to Abortion in Oregon the website makes it clear that abortions are legal in Oregon, which has among the fewest restrictions nationwide. Gov. Tina Kotek emphasized in a release that not only residents of the state, but also visitors to the state have the right to an abortion in Oregon.

Under Reproductive Health Equity Act adopted in 2017, abortions are free for patients. They must be covered by insurance, including Medicaid and commercial and employer plans. Oregon also covers abortions for undocumented immigrants. But there are exceptions to the law of access. Veterans, tribal communities, federal employees and others who receive health care from the federal government are not covered by the procedure because of Congress’ ban on using federal money for abortions. The state also granted an exemption to Providence Health Plan, along with religious employers who want to opt out.

The state has a program, the Abortion Access Plan, to help people who are not covered by their insurer, and there is a link on the website. The website too offers information on various abortion servicesper patient legal rightslist of abortion providers, information about insurance and assistance with paying expenses and how to get help with travel and other support.

Around the same time health officials announced the website, US Supreme Court justices were hearing arguments in a case backed by religious groups against the abortion pill mifepristone. The Food and Drug Administration approved it in 2000 and updated prescribing guidelines in 2016, making the pill easier to access.

Conservative religious groups want the Food and Drug Administration to rescind those guidelines to make it harder to access the drug, which is also used to ease miscarriages. When used to induce an abortion, mifepristone is usually taken with another medicine, misoprostol. Medical abortion accounts for more than 60 percent of abortions performed nationwide, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion data.

Like State Newsroom reported, the justices seemed skeptical of the anti-abortion groups’ arguments. A decision on the case is expected later this year. If the justices rule against allowing easier access to mifepristone, Oregon would be affected, even though the state has stocks of the drug. About a year ago Kotek ordered buying a three-year supply of the drug and the health authority is working with suppliers to develop a plan to distribute the pills if needed.

Oregon representatives present a united front

Oregon Health Authority’s new director, Sejal Hattie, said in a statement that the website is part of the agency’s effort to protect access to abortion.

“As challenges to women’s reproductive freedom grow across the country, OHA remains firmly committed to protecting access to the full range of reproductive health care — including and especially abortion, fertility and contraception services — for all those who live in and visit our state,” Hathi said. “The foundation of access is knowing: your rights, the services available, the nuts and bolts of getting care. This website brings us one step closer to sharing this knowledge and enabling greater access to protected care.”

Also Tuesday, providers, advocates and Democratic lawmakers — including Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Democratic Rep. Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon’s 1st District and Dr. Sarah Kennedy, an obstetrician-gynecologist and the new president and chief executive director of Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette — presented a united front to preserve access to mifepristone and abortion in Oregon. Wyden said Tuesday’s lawsuit marks another attempt by conservatives to roll back reproductive health care after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in 2022

“What we’re essentially dealing with is the next and most recent part of the assault — the inhumane, unconstitutional assault on reproductive rights,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon. “First you have Roe v. Wade, we recently had IVF and today we are dealing with mifepristone. We have to believe that contraception is coming in the future.

Kennedy echoed similar sentiments, saying the case marked “another extreme attempt to eliminate safe and legal abortion, while Bonamici vowed to continue fighting for reproductive rights.

“Today and for as long as it takes, we will fight to protect, restore and expand access to abortion — and that includes access to mifepristone,” Bonamici said.

The Roe v. Wade impulse decision a legislative task force to recommend that the health authority establish a website with comprehensive information on reproductive health. And in March of that year, in anticipation of that decision, the Democratic-controlled Legislature appropriated $15 million for a Reproductive Health Equity Fund to help people in underserved communities access abortion and other care. Although abortion is legal statewide, 75 percent of Oregon counties — home to about a fifth of the state’s women — don’t have an abortion provider, according to Seeding Justice, a Portland nonprofit that oversees the fund. Last year, it provided $1 million to the Northwest Abortion Access Fund, which helps patients in Oregon, Idaho, Washington and Alaska access abortions, including by paying for travel, hotels, meals and childcare. The fund has seen demand increase by more than 250% in the past year, Seeding Justice said.

Last week, she announced the allocation of an additional $8.5 million to 23 organizations that serve a range of low-income, racially and ethnically diverse communities. Recipients include Basic Rights Oregon, Latino Network, Northwest Portland Area Health Indian Board, Oregon Community Health Workers Association, Planned Parenthood and Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center.

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