Malheur County leaders offer widespread support for U.S. Supreme Court decision on abortion

Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, said he supports the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down Roe vs. Wade but doesn’t expect Republicans in the Oregon House or Senate to be able to capitalize on the judgment. (The Enterprise/FILE)

ONTARIO – Local elected leaders offered broad support for the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court Friday to overturn Roe v. Wade and allow the states to regulate abortion.

The 6-3 ruling paves the way for each state to set its own abortion laws.

“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his opinion. Alito was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett in reversing a case settled nearly 50 years ago.

The elimination of the constitutional right is a landmark decision but its impact in Oregon will be negligible as the right to terminate a pregnancy has been protected under the state Constitution since 1983.

Oregon became the first state to codify abortion rights in law in 2017. The Reproductive Health Equity Act of 2017 requires insurance companies to cover abortion costs, among other things, and guarantees the state will cover costs for people on Medicaid or who are uninsured, including those without legal documentation to reside in the U.S. A federal law, the Hyde Amendment, prevents federal money from being used to pay for abortions.

John Kirby, an Ontario city councilor, said the high court judgment falls in line with his own personal beliefs and he supports it.

“I am Roman Catholic and that forms a part of my ethical background. When other people express similar opinion and we live in a conservative part of Oregon bordering a conservative state, I can say that opinion is going to be at least upheld by 50 percent of our community,” said Kirby.

State Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, said he supported the Supreme Court decision as well.

“I am 100 percent pro-life so today’s decision is a good decision,” said Owens.

Owens said, though, he doesn’t believe the decision will trigger new abortion legislation introduced by Republicans in the Oregon Legislature.

That’s because, he said, Republicans continue to be a minority in both the House and Senate.

“The reality is until we get more conservatives elected there is no chance to throttle back some of the abortion policies in Oregon,” said Owens.

Riley Hill, Ontario mayor, said he too, supported the Supreme Court decision.

“I am fine with the decision. I don’t think it (abortion) is right,” said Hill.

Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director, said the decision by the Supreme Court “does not impact what we are doing in our clinic with public health.”

Poe said her office is focused on “the things we do provide” including “prevention and education and access to safe and effective birth control.”

Poe said her agency will concentrate on helping to empower people to “make healthy decisions for their own lives and decide when it is right for them and their families to have a child.”

For Hill and Kirby, the most immediate abortion issue for Ontario are plans for by Planned Parenthood to open an Ontario clinic.

Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette, based in Portland, is now leasing the former Four Rivers Health Care Clinic at 640 S.W. 4th Ave in Ontario.

Kirby said state law stipulates local governments cannot interfere with an organization such as Planned Parenthood.

“Essentially there is nothing we can do. When I have constituents contact me and ask if there is anything I can do I try to respond and, in this case, specifically, I am restricted by state law,” said Kirby.

Kirby said he was concerned regarding perception of Ontario if a Planned Parenthood clinic opened.

“We are the marijuana capital of southwestern Idaho and now we will be the abortion capital of the same regional area,” he said.

In a press conference Friday afternoon with Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette and Planned Parenthood Southwestern Oregon, CEO Anne Udall said that the organization will continue to expand access to meet the needs of patients in Oregon and southwest Washington.

“The city of Ontario is one place we are working to establish a clinic,” said Udall, but added that they “do not have more details on the timing.”

She is “very confident” that the Planned Parenthood location in Bend, currently the only clinic east of the Cascades, will meet an increase in need, including visitors from out-of-state as Idaho’s trigger law sets to abolish abortions soon. 

“We’ve been gearing up for this moment,” said Lisa Gardner, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southwestern Oregon. “We’ve never asked patients where they’re from and will continue to do that.”

Also, on Friday, officials announced that the first $1 million grant of the $15 million Oregon Reproductive Health Equity Fund will go toward the Northwest Abortion Access Fund. The fund serves Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska and helps cover costs for abortion care including travel and lodging.

“Access is not access if you can’t afford it or get to your appointment,” said Megan Kovacs, board member of the Northwest Abortion Access Fund. Seeding Justice, the organization administering the Reproductive Health Equity Fund, added that it will be working with communities to guide future decisions about the fund.

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