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The Fight for Parental Rights in Oregon
Oregon Right to Life | 26 October 2023
Like many states across the country, in Oregon, the abortion industry and its allies in the state legislature sought to cement abortion on demand into the state constitution as well as statute. What is ironic for Oregon is that the Guttmacher Institute ranked Oregon as the single most “protective” state[i] before the 2023 legislative session. However, for Oregon’s political leaders, it was not enough.
The supporters of HB 2002 sought to push Oregon even further into the bleeding edge of abortion law. The most egregious provisions targeted minors, seeking to separate vulnerable children from their parents. Provisions included:[ii]
Eliminating any age of consent requirements for “reproductive health care”, including abortion.
Requiring written permission from a child of any age in order for a parent to know what reproductive health services are provided by a health care provider.
Authorizing pharmacists to provide abortion pills without regard to the age of the person.
Adding legal protections for abortion providers while removing conscience protections for health care providers considered to be an “agent of a public body”.
Protecting a provider, who violated the law in another state (as long as it was related to providing “reproductive health care”), from that information being given to an Oregon employer.
Establishes a gag order on public entities that prevents sharing information about ethical or legal violations committed by medical providers.
Creating a taxpayer-funded program providing chemical abortions at student health centers at higher education facilities including community colleges.
Creating a pilot program to provide grants to two rural Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) to offer abortions.
Creates the crime of interfering with a healthcare facility that is clearly designed to discourage pro-life prayer vigils and advocacy outside of abortion clinics.
Repeals the crime of “concealing the birth of an infant”.
The legislation also included provisions related to insurance coverage for transgender treatments. In Oregon, the link between abortion and transgender treatment is a frequent tactic. Oregon Right to Life pursued a strategy that focused on the further breakdown of the parent and child relationship.
Pro-life advocates were quick to respond sending hundreds of emails, leaving voicemail messages and when possible speaking with legislators and staff about the dangerous provisions of the bill.
When the required House committee public hearing was scheduled, pro-life advocates opposing the bill outnumbered supporters in the room and excellent testimony was provided by parents and medical professionals.
The next time the bill was heard in public there was no opportunity for testimony however, pro-life members of the Joint Ways and Means Committee insisted they be given the opportunity to call in Legislative Counsel, to ask substantive questions. The back and forth was instructive as the legal experts legislators rely on were unable to answer questions about the meaning of key portions of the bill, not to mention how it would be interpreted in practice if passed.
And the answers they were able to give were shocking even to some of the sponsors. Legislative Counsel confirmed the bill would allow a 10-year-old to receive an abortion without her parent's consent or even their knowledge. Supporters of the bill audibly gasped and protested that this would not actually happen.
In spite of this, legislative leaders pushed the bill ahead.
When HB 2002 was sent from committee to the House floor for a vote, pro-life representatives spent about nine hours giving the majority every opportunity to move the bill back to committees or postpone it for further policy discussion and clarification. Every time, these efforts were voted down, and the bill eventually passed the House, sent to the Senate President’s desk and was scheduled for a vote.
Then something extraordinary happened. Republican state senators had been concerned about the way legislative leadership was operating in general, but especially with complex legislation like HB 2002 being shielded from appropriate legislative process and fast-tracked. Digging into all of the possible options to hold the Democrats accountable, they believed they had found one.
Oregon has a long-standing statute that states, "Any measure digest or measure summary prepared by the Legislative Assembly shall be written in a manner that results in a score of at least 60 on the Flesch-Kincaid readability test or meets an equivalent standard of a comparable test."
The Flesch-Kincaid readability test is designed to indicate the difficulty of any given passage written in English. The higher the score, the easier it is to understand. The score required by ORS 171.134[iii] is the equivalent of an eighth-grade reading level. House Bill 2002's summary scored a 20 on the Flesch-Kincaid test. Such a low score indicates it's written at a college graduate reading level.
The pro-life senators challenged a series of bills that violated ORS 171.134. They then challenged Senate leadership to follow their own rule, which clearly states that any measure introduced in the Senate must comply with the statute. Led by Senate President Rob Wagner, the leadership refused. Wagner's actions demonstrated his intention to force through radical policies by refusing to follow rules and shutting down the legitimate protest of minority members. This behavior left pro-life senators with one option to stop these dangerous bills: a walkout.
The strategy, while successful in stopping bills in the past, had an added consequence for the senators. A ballot measure passed in 2022 intended to disqualify Oregon lawmakers from the opportunity to run for reelection after 10 unexcused absences. And Senate President Wagner had sole authority to excuse absences.
The timing of the walkout made it difficult to sustain and as the days and legislation piled up so did the pressure to negotiate. In the end, a deal was struck that included substantial amendments to HB 2002 including requiring parental consent for abortion procedures for ages 14 and younger.
The bill to refer a constitutional change, SJR 33, was also stopped as a part of the final agreement. The resolution sought to gain voter support to add language to the existing equal rights amendment in the Oregon Constitution. Most concerning to Oregon Right to Life was the language preventing any law, policy, or action that discriminates based on "pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes or related health decisions." This language would enshrine the right to abortion in Oregon's constitution, prohibiting any future legislation limiting abortions at any stage for any reason. We are waiting to see if proponents decide to file an initiative and gather signatures to put the question on the November 2024 ballot.
To the end, pro-life legislators in both the Oregon Senate and House demonstrated courage in their stand against the abortion industry and their radical allies in the legislature.
[i] “Interactive Map: US Abortion Policies and Access After Roe,” Guttmacher Institute, accessed October 24, 2023, https://states.guttmacher.org/policies/?gad=1&gclid=Cj0KCQjw9MCnBhCYARIsAB1WQVWBm6HYEb7rBrXJUar_07lryvkZ2jKb5TAmCwUvrKYkfQGcokVwFPUaAs5hEALw_wcB.
[ii] HB 2002, Oregon Legislature, accessed on October 24, 2023, https://olis.oregonlegislature.gov/liz/2023R1/Downloads/MeasureDocument/HB2002/Introduced.
[iii] ORS 171.134, Oregon Laws, accessed on October 24, 2023, https://oregon.public.law/statutes/ors_171.134