An Oregon bill that would set aside $500,000 in taxpayer funds to pay for abortions for illegal immigrants could backfire and lead to significant pro-life gains, abortion opponents say.
David Kilada, political director at Oregon Right to Life, said Oregon already has some of the most permissive abortion regulations in the nation. The procedure is available up until the moment of birth, and almost half of all abortions are funded by taxpayers.
This time, he thinks pro-choice lawmakers are overplaying their hand.
“Democrats have made clear that they are in favor of more late-term and sex-selective abortions,” Mr. Kilada said. “Not to mention undocumented immigrants can now get abortions for free. That’s not what Oregonians want, and I think it will be a big part of the campaign next year.”
H.B. 3391, the Reproductive Health Equity Act, would allocate $10.2 million to the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s Medicaid program, to pay for reproductive services for women who would be eligible “except for their immigration status.” Of that amount, about $500,000 is earmarked for abortions.
The legislation, which was developed with the assistance of Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice groups, also would require private insurance companies to provide abortions to their customers free of charge.
Laurel Swerdlow, advocacy director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, said the bill would guarantee abortion access to every Oregonian no matter “where they live or how much money they make or who provides their health insurance.”
The Oregon House approved the measure on a party-line vote last month, and it currently sits on the desk of Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, a former abortion rights lobbyist.
She’s up for re-election in 2018, but the governor’s race isn’t the only thing the pro-life movement has its sights set on.
For years Oregon Life United has tried to get a ballot measure on the docket that would bar taxpayer dollars from financing abortions. Since 2002 Oregon has paid nearly $24 million for more than 52,000 abortions.
With the Reproductive Health Equity Act garnering national attention, Shannon Henshaw, an organizer with Oregon Life United, said the ballot measure has its best chance of passing yet.
“I think a lot of people were already concerned about the number of abortions in the state that are paid for by taxpayer dollars,” Ms. Henshaw said. “And because H.B. 3391 is so extreme, I think it’s generated some additional fervor to put a stop to that.”
Ms. Henshaw said the petition currently has between 40,000 and 50,000 signatures. It needs about 117,000 to make it onto the 2018 ballot.
Recent precedent suggests abortion is a losing issue for Democrats.
Under the leadership of U.S. Sen. Michael F. Bennet of Colorado, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee poured $60 million into the Bannock Street Project, an initiative to advance the “War on Women” narrative in the 2014 midterm elections.
Despite the infusion of cash, the pro-choice message fell flat, and Republicans ended up holding onto the House and reclaiming the Senate.
Mr. Kilada said something similar could happen in Oregon.
“I think the statement of Gov. Brown signing this bill would be that abortion is a central part of her campaign,” he said. “And we’ll make sure the voters know that.”