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Abortion debate flares up in Rogue Valley

Abortion-rights supporters rallied in Ashland earlier this month to protest a potential move by the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. Photo by Dasja Dolan
Supreme Court may overturn Roe v. Wade, sparking responses across region

Debate over abortion has flared up in the Rogue Valley after a leaked draft opinion revealed the U.S. Supreme Court may overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in 1973.

More than 2,000 abortion rights supporters marched through Ashland, and about 300 more gathered in Grants Pass last weekend as part of a nationwide series of protests.

Some anti-abortion protesters attended those rallies and continue to picket Planned Parenthood clinics and locations such as farmers markets.

If the Supreme Court does overturn Roe v. Wade and leave the abortion issue to states, 26 states are either ready or likely to ban abortion. Of those, 11 have laws that would go into effect and block abortions — even in cases of rape or incest, according to legal experts.

“Some of these states are even saying that 12-year-old girls who were raped are going to be forced to carry the product of the rape,” said Teresa Safay, a member of the Southern Oregon Women’s March and the ORD2 Indivisible group of liberal activists.

“I just feel like the world has gone upside down and dark. I honestly don’t understand what they’re thinking.”

Those who support access to legal abortion are especially infuriated that the Supreme Court could defy the views of the majority of Americans.

Various polls show 60%-65% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while about 30% believe it should be illegal with some exceptions. About 5% favor a total ban on abortions with no exceptions for rape or incest.

The Supreme Court has six conservative-leaning justices and three liberal-leaning justices.

Democrats are still smarting that Republicans in Congress blocked a Supreme Court pick during the presidency of Barack Obama, a Democrat and supporter of abortion rights. That plus the retirement of a justice and the death of pro-abortion rights Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg set the stage for President Donald Trump to appoint three conservatives to the nation’s highest court.

Safay said a ban on abortion would affect the ability of women to get an education, stay in the workforce and provide for their other children if they have them. She said Republicans who want to force women to have children usually oppose government-subsidized health care, food aid, tax credits and other support for struggling families.

Among girls and women who get an abortion, 75% are low income, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a national research group that backs reproductive health rights.

Women have had the right to legal abortions for nearly 50 years in the U.S., Safay noted.

“There’s going to be a fight like they’ve never seen if they think they’re going to shove us back into a little hole,” she said.

Although people rarely share their experiences with abortion, one in four women in the United States will have an abortion by age 45, the Guttmacher Institute said.

Rogue Valley resident Lexy Collins, who has written a book about the aftermath of her abortion experience, was vehemently opposed to abortion but then had one herself after a relationship with a married man. She was divorced and already had children.

Collins said the abortion was painful and left her screaming and crying in her bathtub. Her co-workers and friends shunned her when they found out. She said she self-medicated with alcohol for 13 years, suffered crippling depression and contemplated suicide before turning to religion and starting therapy.

Collins wants to pass laws that make providing information about the aftermath of an abortion mandatory for women seeking abortion.

“We’re not God,” she said. “You don’t have the right to make that choice. It’s little fingers and toes and a heartbeat. It’s a person.”

Other women say they felt relief after getting an abortion.

A Rogue Valley woman who asked to remain anonymous said she started having her period in seventh grade. An older relative who had been molesting her since first grade had sex with her. When she started missing periods, she was terrified and would spend all day filled with dread before finally falling asleep.

“I would wake up in the morning and think, ‘Something’s wrong.’ Then I would remember, ‘I’m pregnant.’ If abortion wasn’t an option, I would probably have killed myself,” she said. “I still sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and think, ‘Something’s wrong.’ Even though I realize I’m safe and OK, it’s hard to fall back asleep. Even my husband doesn’t know that happened to me.”

She said she’s too ashamed about being impregnated through incest to tell him.

Oregon could see influx of patients

State Rep. Pam Marsh, a Democrat representing southern Jackson County in the state Legislature, said abortion access in Oregon is strongly protected by a reproductive rights bill legislators passed in 2017.

Government-subsidized Oregon Health Plan insurance for low-income people covers abortion. The Legislature also allocated $15 million in 2022 for the nonprofit Northwest Abortion Access Fund to help patients with travel expenses and other costs of getting an abortion.

Oregon legislators and voters have a history of supporting abortion access, Marsh said.

She said voters have to keep electing pro-abortion rights leaders to the Oregon Legislature and Congress.

Democrats in the Oregon Legislature announced Thursday they plan to convene a working group to make recommendations for further protections lawmakers should consider in the 2023 legislative session. This year’s session is already over.

Democrats in Congress last week failed to get Republican support for a national bill to keep abortion legal. Some Republicans advocate a national bill banning abortion, although whether they can achieve that goal remains in question.

If the court overturns Roe v. Wade, nearly half of people of reproductive age in the nation will lose access to abortion as anti-abortion state laws go into effect. Those with unwanted pregnancies will have to travel to other states or continue the pregnancy.

“If you are living in Missouri or Texas and you can’t get the services where you are, how far do you have to travel to get to a state where you can get those services? How much will you have to pay for that travel? How will you get time off from work? Who will watch the kids you may already have? How will you know how to even access services once you get to that far-off community? We really are creating a lot of barriers to people that are going to be difficult and expensive,” Marsh said.

Marsh said she foresees a deeply unequal future in which people with money will be able to get an abortion, while poor people won’t.

She said having a child is a joyful, life-changing event when a woman is ready.

“For women who are not ready for that experience or who have other barriers in their lives, it will turn everything upside down. I think when we can plan our reproductive lives and decide when to bear children, we have the best opportunity for good outcomes for those kiddos and those families. The data shows that pretty clearly. Unintended pregnancies are a huge reason why women fall into poverty. Children who are born of unintended pregnancy are at a higher risk of low birth weight, death before age one and abuse,” Marsh said.

Women in the Rogue Valley and the rest of Western Oregon will still have access to abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. However, people in Eastern Oregon near the Idaho border currently travel to Boise-area clinics. They could lose their closest access to abortion if Idaho laws against abortion go into effect, Planned Parenthood said in a media briefing this month.

Planned Parenthood is a major provider of contraception, cancer screenings, abortion and other reproductive care.

Planned Parenthood said it’s considering expanding telehealth visits and mailing prescriptions for medicine that induces an abortion, possibly building an Eastern Oregon clinic or sending mobile units there.

Because of medical licensing requirements, people have to have an Oregon address to get an abortion medication prescription by mail, Planned Parenthood said.

The medication works for early pregnancies.

Oregon abortion providers could see a 234% increase in patient volume as girls and women from Idaho and other states travel to Oregon for care, the Guttmacher Institute predicts.

Since the Supreme Court draft opinion that would ban abortion leaked out, Planned Parenthood has been assuring its patients that they can still get abortions, said Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon Chief Executive Officer Lisa Gardner.

“Abortion is still legal. As of today, it remains a constitutional right in this country. But this leak makes it very clear that our deepest fears are coming true. We are at a crisis moment for abortion access,” she said. “The Supreme Court is acting in defiance of the American people. Research shows abortion bans and restrictions are deeply unpopular with the majority of Americans supporting safe and legal abortion access in this country.”

Planned Parenthood said if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and the concept of a right to privacy against government intrusion into personal matters, rights to contraception and same-sex marriage could also be threatened.

Marsh said the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision gets the attention, but the Supreme Court didn’t affirm the right for married couples to use contraception until 1965.

“It was 1972 when unmarried people got the right to use birth control. Birth control itself was approved right in that same time period as Roe,” she said.

Marsh said the Roe v. Wade decision came nearly 50 years ago, the same year she graduated from high school.

“It’s inconceivable to many of us that those rights are now threatened. It will be up to all of us to step up and tell our own stories to make it very clear that we are not going back,” she said.

Caring for pregnant women

Oregon Right to Life opposes abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The organization tries to protect human life, from conception to the approach to the grave, said Dale Sauer, chapter chairman of Jackson County Right to Life.

If a person does have an unplanned pregnancy, Sauer said, American society is set up to provide plenty of help. His organization and other anti-abortion groups and churches also help support The Pregnancy Center in Medford.

“We would not advocate that you tell people, ‘You’re pregnant. I’m sorry.’ We wouldn’t be caring about the mother’s life or anyone else’s life if we didn’t offer help,” Sauer said.

The Pregnancy Center’s services include pregnancy testing, fetal ultrasounds, prenatal vitamins, baby supplies, a New Moms Club for expecting and new mothers, and an 11-week Bible study program for women to find forgiveness and hope if they suffer depression or guilt after an abortion.

The center can refer teens and women to a variety of supports, including government-subsidized health insurance, food pantries, drug and alcohol addiction treatment, homeless and domestic violence shelters and financial help.

Critics say pregnancy resource centers are designed to pull in vulnerable girls and women and dissuade them from having an abortion.

The Pregnancy Center lists the options for an unplanned pregnancy as abortion, adoption or parenting. On its website, the center graphically describes abortion procedures and potential risks, such as bleeding, infection, blood clots or a perforated uterus. It doesn’t list contact information for Planned Parenthood or other organizations that could help a person get an abortion.

The website does include information on adoption and parenting, plus contact information for those options. It doesn’t list potential risks of pregnancy and childbirth.

According to medical experts, some of the risks girls and women face include death; diabetes that develops during pregnancy; short-term or lifelong urine leakage from damaged pelvic floor muscles; pelvic fractures; high blood pressure that can result in seizures or a coma for the woman and damage or death to the fetus; and damage to the tissue separating the vagina from the rectum or the bladder, resulting in chronic infection and leakage of feces or urine unless surgically repaired.

In America, one-third of pregnancies end with a cesarean section, in which doctors cut through skin, muscle and the uterine wall to extract the baby. Risks include hemorrhage, blood clots, wound infection and injury to organs like the bladder and bowel. Recovery can take months.

Opponents of abortion rights express themselves in downtown Medford. Photo by Dale Sauer

Unlike abortion rights supporters, Sauer said he doesn’t consider abortion to be health care.

“I’m pretty much unaware of a situation in which that’s health care,” he said, then offered a caveat. “If the mother’s life is threatened — I’m not aware of a situation like that — but if that were to happen, we’re not against health care. We’re for the woman’s life, as well as the baby’s life.”

Asked about whether abortion should be allowed in case of rape, Sauer said killing could be justified.

“If a lady is raped and becomes pregnant, there’s three people involved and a crime, punishable by death in my opinion,” he said. “Who should we kill, the rapist or the baby?”

Sauer’s wife, who is not involved in the Right to Life organization, said she grew up in an alcoholic, abusive home. Nanci LaFontaine said she became pregnant at age 15, got kicked out of school and had the baby at 16. She had a difficult delivery, and she and her baby almost died. She had no support, but struggled through.

Now 77 years old, LaFontaine said she wouldn’t have missed having her daughter for anything in the world.

“We talk every day. We talk about everything. She’s my best friend,” she said.

Like Right to Life, the conservative Trail Christian Fellowship Church is another organization that aids pregnant women through The Pregnancy Center.

The church also donates to adoption agencies and has a fund to support women and families facing an unplanned pregnancy.

Senior Pastor Rick Booye said many women feel grief about past abortions. The church connects them with like-minded women for counseling.

He said the church hopes the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

“We believe that human life begins at conception. We believe that killing an unborn child is not a constitutional right,” Booye said. “The Bible teaches clearly that human life, created in God’s image, should not be taken in the case of an innocent. And our view is that there is no more innocent human than an unborn child.”

Like Americans, churches are split on the abortion issue.

On the national level, Episcopalians believe a woman has a right to choose, although individual members may feel differently, said Jan Martin, senior warden at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Medford.

Most Episcopalians believe abortion should not be lightly done, but Roe v. Wade should stand because a woman has a right to determine what happens with her body, she said.

Speaking for herself, Martin said she believes there are circumstances where abortion is necessary.

“It’s a necessary evil, put it that way,” she said.

If a woman came to her about an unplanned pregnancy and wanted an abortion, Martin said, she would refer the person to Planned Parenthood. She hasn’t had to deal with that situation in her role at the church, but she did encounter pregnant girls who needed help when she was a middle school teacher.

“Sadly, that kind of thing happens a lot more than one thinks,” Martin said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporters Vickie Aldous at valdous@rosebudmedia.com or Morgan Rothborne at mrothborne@rosebudmedia.com.