Constitutional amendments should protect our rights and liberties, not restrict them. But restricting rights—namely those of people with the capacity to become pregnant—is exactly what Oregon’s Measure 106 purports to do.
This ballot measure would amend the state constitution to require Oregon, in its public funding of health care, to discriminate against only one medical procedure: abortion.
Oregon is one of only 17 states to have expanded its Medicaid program to cover abortion care; it’s also one of the 28 states that allow abortion coverage in insurance plans for public employees. Last year, state lawmakers passed the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which ensures access to abortion care for all people in Oregon—with no out-of-pocket costs—regardless of their insurance provider, gender identity, or immigration status. At a time when liberty is under attack by our own federal government, it is up to states like Oregon to continue charting the path forward, not to retreat.
Those for Measure 106 argue that the measure is justified because it only prohibits funding for abortions that are “elective” rather than “medically necessary,” as though the decision to have an abortion is just like the decision to undergo teeth whitening, or Botox, or a facelift. Their argument goes something like this: If abortion is a “choice,” shouldn’t taxpayers be able to “choose” whether to fund it?
Even looking beyond the co-optation of the term “choice,” this argument falls flat. Because abortion isn’t merely a choice.
Consider those who lack access to basic reproductive health care, such as contraception and medically accurate sex education. Or those who do not have adequate housing or a job that pays a living wage (much less one that offers paid parental leave). Or—considering that nearly 60 percent of women who have abortions are parents—think about those who are struggling to care for the children they already have. Or victims of domestic violence, for whom unintended pregnancies could lead to further violence and forever tether them to their abusers. For these women and so many others, an abortion may not be medically necessary, but it surely isn’t “elective” either. For these women, access to abortion is a matter of survival.
In fact, abortion is never really “elective,” even for those who simply don’t want a child or have things they want to accomplish before becoming a parent. Truly elective procedures are those for which the consequences of forgoing them would be relatively inconsequential. Carrying a pregnancy to term has significant physical, emotional, social, and economic consequences.
To characterize abortion as an “elective” procedure is to deny the lived experiences of all women, and particularly young women, low-income women, and women of color. The truth is that one in four women in the United States will have an abortion by the age of 45—and this includes women who have a religious or moral objection to abortion.
Seeing abortion care as “elective” makes it easier to ignore those who would be harmed by Measure 106. This includes the estimated 250,000 women of reproductive age who receive health care through Oregon’s Medicaid program; or the thousands of teachers, nurses, firefighters, city workers, and other public service members who receive health care through state insurance plans; or the countless others who would be affected by abortion being further stigmatized and made inaccessible.
It also makes it easier for state lawmakers to assert power over pregnant people’s bodies more generally. Doing so diminishes people’s experiences, and minimizes what is at stake when we push abortion care out of reach. And if we cannot talk about the reality in which abortion happens, we can’t begin to address the many forms of oppression that lead to one in four women needing abortion care in the first place.
Abortion is not like plastic surgery. Abortion is essential health care. It is a fundamental right under the United States Constitution; international law recognizes abortion, including the means by which to access it, as a basic human right. Yet this right means nothing if it is only available to the privileged.
People who seek abortion care, and those who have had abortions, are unique, multifaceted individuals; they share only a singular decision for their bodies, their futures, and their reproductive health.
Measure 106 is on the wrong side of history, and must not be allowed to pass. Not in Oregon. Not now. Not ever.