Following Idaho’s recent ban on nearly all abortions, Oregon is investing millions in its abortion infrastructure as it prepares for an influx of patients requesting the procedure.
Barring legal interference, the Idaho law will go into effect on April 22 and allows family members of what the law calls an “unborn child” to sue abortion providers for performing the procedure after six weeks. Many women are unaware that they are pregnant at this early stage.
New Oregon legislation establishes a $15 million fund to cover the costs of patients traveling to the state for abortions and providers performing the procedure. Washington and California are among other states that have also recently strengthened access to abortion, but Oregon is the first state in the country to pass such a law.
The money is part of a strategy abortion rights advocates have been pushing in states for more than a year.
“This conversation started happening very immediately after Justice Ginsburg died,” said Christel Allen, executive director of the Pro-Choice Oregon group and a member of a coalition that led the legislative effort.
When Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in 2020, many recognized the potential opportunity the court would have to win a more conservative member and reconsider the legal precedent protecting abortion. With Judge Amy Coney Barrett now seated on the court and a court ruling on the matter expected in June this year, lawyers like Allen say they are preparing for the worst case scenario.
“This situation that this state has never been in — this country has never been — is going to require resources and the creation of new best practices,” she says.
Some of the state’s new money will likely go to groups such as the Northwest Abortion Access Fund which helps patients pay for abortion travel and associated expenses such as child care or vacation time.
The other money will go to places like Lilith Clinic in Portland. It is the only clinic in the state that offers late-term abortions, usually up to 22 weeks. For some, this is the only option. Patients often go to Lilith to terminate a pregnancy when they discover that a fetus has a life-threatening abnormality, for example.
Christine Riewer, medical assistant at the Lilith Clinic, says she is committed to the work.
“I love it,” she said. “I started doing it and I was like, ‘This is amazing, I want to do this forever.’ “
The job comes with unique challenges. Riewer points to the clinic’s security cameras, which allow staff to see both the front door and the back door. “Our doors are still locked,” she said. “We are verifying the identity.”
Security in this clinic is an expense that new state money could cover. Oregon has designated the Creative Purposes Fund exactly like this.
“What concerns us is the small number of people for whom violence is possible,” says Grayson Dempsey, spokesperson for the Lilith Clinic.
The majority of protests at the clinic are peaceful, Dempsey says. But safety will become paramount if facilities have to close in other states and anti-abortion activists across the country find themselves with fewer protest targets.
“We not only have to hold the line here, but we have to be ready to be the center of that attention,” Dempsey said.
Other providers say the money could be used to create systemic changes in the state’s health care system.
Dr. Helen Bellanca performed abortions before taking a job at a clinic in the town of Hood River, Oregon, which depended on federal funding. The restrictions prevent federal money from paying for abortions.
Bellanca could not offer the procedure to his patients, many of whom were migrant farm workers. “I wanted to continue to offer abortions in my office, but it was not possible”, explains Bellanca. “I think this fund is so important because it would allow communities to have the flexibility to access this care.”
She has since left that clinic, but says using state money to pay abortion costs would provide a workaround for providers in similar positions. “It’s not about having a clinician ready to perform an abortion. It’s about having systems in place and infrastructure in place to deliver it.”
Other uses of the $15 million fund could include supporting telemedicine or purchasing ultrasound equipment for rural clinics.
If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v Wade within months, as most legal analysts expect, Oregon could see a 234% increase in the number of abortion patients nationwide, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a group research on abortion rights.
This disruption could trigger a health care crisis in every state.
Christel Allen of Pro-Choice Oregon says it’s time for states that support abortion rights to implement a comprehensive judicial press, as other states across the country move to restrict abortion. access to abortion. “It gives us a chance,” she says, “to start being an incubator of solutions and then help other states move on and move forward.”