Oregon enacted a reproductive health equity act last year, a monumental law that brought it into the group of states leading the way on ensuring comprehensive coverage of reproductive health. The law requires safe and affordable access to abortion; provides coverage of preventive care, including contraceptives, without cost sharing; and expands post-partum care. It also goes beyond the original Contraceptive Equity legislation developed by the National Health Law Program for California in 2014, by ensuring reproductive health care coverage regardless of citizenship status or gender identity.
Oregon, however, is now poised to move backwards with a ballot initiative titled “Measure 106.” The initiative, appearing on Oregon ballots in November, is effectively a backdoor ban on abortion.
What is Measure 106?
Measure 106 would amend the Oregon Constitution to prohibit publicly funded health care programs, including the Oregon Health Plan (Medicaid) and the Public Employees Benefit Board, from covering abortion services. In other words, Measure 106 would not only end Oregon’s coverage of abortions for the nearly 290,000 women of reproductive age who receive care through state-run health care programs, but would also deny abortion coverage to the more than 77,000 women of reproductive age who are Oregon state employees, such as teachers, nurses, and firefighters. The measure would impact nearly 4 in 10 women of reproductive age in Oregon. (Oregon and 16 other states use money to provide abortion coverage to enrollees in their state Medicaid programs. This is necessary because of the federal Hyde Amendment, an annual appropriations rider that bans federal funding for abortion except in strict cases.)
Why does abortion coverage matter?
Almost a million abortions are performed in the United States each year; and one out of four women have an abortion by age 45. Multiple studies have shown that abortion is one of the most common and safest medical procedures in the U.S. And in March of 2018, a new landmark study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) confirmed what we have always known: that abortion is safe and effective, and that restrictions on abortion severely harm women’s health. In fact, the NASEM panel – composed of an independent, non-partisan group of scientific experts – found that the biggest threats to the quality of abortion care are unnecessary regulations on abortion facilities, onerous provider requirements, limited provider training opportunities, and a lack of public funding, which is precisely what this Oregon initiative seeks to do.
Lack of funding for abortion also creates profound socioeconomic consequences and disproportionately affects low-income women and women of color. When women must pay out of pocket for abortion care, they are likely to struggle financially, sometimes redirecting money from rent, food, or utilities to help cover the costs. If denied an abortion altogether, women were more likely to fall further into poverty and less likely to be employed full time at 6 months after the denial, relative to their peers who were able to receive an abortion – and these findings continued for four years. This increase in poverty comes despite the fact that women who were denied are more likely to use public assistance. Meanwhile, women who were able to access an abortion were more likely to achieve their aspirational one-year goals, such as going back to school or securing a better job.
Additionally, the chronic denial of access to abortion and other reproductive health services has grave effects on women of color, who are more likely to experience worse reproductive endocrinology and infertility outcomes, gynecologic oncology outcomes, and more likely to die during childbirth than their white peers.
How can I get involved?
The vote is on November 6, so now is the time to learn more and get involved! Visit No Cuts to Care, a coalition formed by more than 100trusted organizations, businesses, and elected officials in Oregon working to stop Measure 106.
Measure 106 reflects a common tactic from opponents of reproductive health care to carve out abortion from women’s health generally. But we cannot set aside abortion care. When women have no access to abortion care, they face dire consequences to their health and lives. It is time to treat abortion as the critical part it serves in women’s lives – for the one million women who undergo it each year, those who consider it, and those who have and will go through it, both in Oregon and across the country.