Next Oregon governor could change state’s approach to abortion after Supreme Court decision

Democrats, independent Betsy Johnson and Republican Jessica Gomez oppose the Supreme Court’s expected decision

By: - May 3, 2022 2:41 pm

Abortion rights activists from UltraViolet organize a light brigade outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 30, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In recent years, Oregon has established itself as a haven for abortion rights, providing access at no cost to Oregonians and creating a fund for out-of-state patients who can’t obtain care in their own states. That could all change after the 2022 election.

Monday night’s leak of a draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion that would overturn a 50-year-old landmark abortion rights decision means that the country is likely to return to a patchwork of laws, with abortion legal in some states and criminalized in others. There are no restrictions on abortion in Oregon law, but a new Legislature and governor could change those laws. 

The two leading Democrats running for governor, former House Speaker Tina Kotek and state Treasurer Tobias Read, affirmed their support for reproductive rights on Twitter after news broke Monday.

“I will always stand up for reproductive freedom,” Kotek said. “That’s why I fought to pass the nation’s strongest abortion access law here in Oregon. Because of our work, reproductive rights will be protected in Oregon no matter what happens at the Supreme Court.”

Read called on Congress to pass a law protecting the right to an abortion. The U.S. House passed such a bill last year, but it failed in the Senate when Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, joined Republicans to vote it down. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said Tuesday he’ll hold another vote on abortion rights, but it’s unlikely to succeed as long as the Senate maintains its filibuster rule. 

“Access to abortion is a constitutional right that should not be left to the whims of state legislators to eliminate as they see fit,” Read said.

Betsy Johnson, a former Democratic state senator now running for governor as an independent, said Oregon “will remain a pro-choice state” if she is elected governor. As a legislator, she voted for the 2017 law. 

“This is a bedrock issue for me, and frankly, for Oregon,” she said. “A woman’s reproductive freedom is a fundamental right.” 

Most Republican candidates back restrictions

Leading Republican candidates, however, largely oppose abortion rights – a sharp contrast from recent elections. In both 2016 and 2018, Republican nominees Knute Buehler and Bud Pierce ran as supporters of abortion rights. 

Pierce, a Salem oncologist, is running again this year and now opposes abortion rights. During a virtual Tuesday debate hosted by the Portland City Club, he said he believes abortion should be decided by states. He said he opposes Oregon’s current laws governing abortion. 

Bridget Barton, a writer and publisher from West Linn, said she supports the Supreme Court’s expected decision and believes most Oregonians agree with her. If she wins election and has a Republican Legislature, Barton said she’d start with eliminating state funding for abortion providers.

“I’d get rid of the taxpayer-funded vacations here to have abortions,” she said. “I’d pull back taxpayer funding for abortions, that would be a goal. And I would try to get back to where most Oregonians are now, which is only up to the second trimester.” 

Oregon is one of only a handful of states that don’t limit when a pregnancy can be terminated. Many states limit abortions sometime between the 20th and 28th week of pregnancy, a period during which the third trimester starts and fetuses can usually survive outside their mother’s womb.

Only about 1% of abortions occur after 20 weeks, and they frequently result from fetal anomalies, threats a fetus poses the mother’s life or barriers to care that prevented women from obtaining abortions earlier, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides information on health policy. 

Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam, another Republican candidate for governor, said he’ll take a hard stance. 

“I would sign any restriction that we can have,” he said.

Pulliam also called on Oregon Right to Life, which did not endorse him, to rescind its endorsement of former House Minority Leader Christine Drazan because she said in a previous debate that she would only veto bills expanding abortion rights.

Drazan missed the Tuesday debate, and her campaign spokesman did not respond to emailed questions from the Capital Chronicle before publication. He later shared a two-sentence statement from Drazan, who described the leak as a “grave attack on one of the core institutions of our country” and declined to comment about abortion restrictions. 

“I have never shied away from my pro-life values, but will wait for the Court’s official opinion before commenting further,” Drazan said.

Jessica Gomez, founder of a Medford-based microchip processing company and the only prominent Republican running for governor as a supporter of abortion rights, said existing laws wouldn’t change if she were elected. However, she said she doesn’t want Oregon to pay for abortions for patients from other states. 

“Oregon is pro-choice,” she said. “I’m pro-choice and we should remain that way.”

This story has been updated to reflect a response from Christine Drazan’s spokesman after publication.

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Julia Shumway
Julia Shumway

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.