Why Oregon is insulated from looming US Supreme Court abortion decision

Connor Radnovich John Fritze
Salem Statesman Journal

A majority of the U.S. Supreme Court signaled Wednesday it is open to upholding Mississippi’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, but left unresolved the question of how far it may go to undermine its landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

However, even if the justices chose to overturn the decades-old precedent, access to abortions in Oregon would not be impacted.

The Oregon Legislature has enacted a number of laws securing access to these procedures, including the Reproductive Health Equity Act in 2017, which codified the protections of Roe v. Wade in Oregon law.

There are no significant restrictions on abortions in Oregon that are seen in other states, such as waiting periods or mandatory parental involvement.

Salem abortion protests:As anger grows over clashes, city officials say they have 'few options'

Abortion services are included in state Medicaid coverage, and Oregon law requires private health insurance plans to cover abortions without exclusions or limitations.

A ballot measure in 2018 pushed by anti-abortion groups sought to prohibit the use of public funds on abortions, but Oregon voters rejected the measure 64% to 36%.

In nearly two hours of debate Wednesday, the justices wrestled with the potential impact of overturning Roe on people seeking an abortion, as well as how a heavily divided nation might perceive the Supreme Court if it abandons the watershed ruling from 1973 that established a constitutional right to the procedure.

On the ballot:Proposals regulating guns, walkouts and tax kickers could be on 2022 ballot

But while Oregon may not be directly impacted, the high court's decision, likely to be handed down early next summer, will have ramifications beyond Mississippi: Dozens of conservative states are poised to approve similar bans.

At least 17 states enacted "trigger bans" or have pre-Roe abortion bans in place in the event the Supreme Court overturns the ruling, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.

Idaho is among those states, which means the court overturning Roe could send residents there seeking abortion into Oregon at higher rates. Since Texas' six-week abortion ban went into effect in September, women have been crossing into neighboring states to seek out the procedure. 

The Mississippi case, along with the Texas ban that is also pending before the Supreme Court, pushed the issue back to the forefront of the nation's culture wars. 

Abortion rights advocates say allowing Mississippi's 15-week ban to take effect would, in practice, overturn Roe by wiping away one of its central holdings: that people have a right to an abortion until viability, the point when a fetus can survive outside the womb or about 24 weeks into a pregnancy. 

Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the last abortion clinic in Mississippi, challenged the law in 2018, asserting it conflicted with Roe and a subsequent case in 1992 that upheld Roe but ruled people can obtain an abortion until viability. Two lower federal courts agreed with that position, and Mississippi appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court, where conservatives hold a 6-3 advantage for the first time in decades, surprised observers by agreeing to hear the case at all. Similar bans have been struck down without intervention from the nation’s highest court. The decision to take the case signals that at least some of the justices want to say something about the issue.