Oregon voters soundly defeated a ballot measure Tuesday that would restrict public funding for abortion in the state.
Measure 106 was aimed at forcing Oregon to stop paying for the abortions of low-income women except in limited circumstances. It also sought to prevent public employees from receiving abortion coverage as part of their health insurance.
Oregon, which has never approved any additional state restrictions on abortion, has long been regarded as one of the strongest bastions of abortion rights in the country. Just last year, Gov. Kate Brown signed legislation requiring that health insurers provide abortion services without charge to patients.
Grayson Dempsey, who heads Naral Pro-Choice Oregon, said she was excited that the state's voters "shared their values that abortion needs to be accessible to all people regardless of their income."
In large part, Measure 106 wound up on the ballot only because of the determined efforts of abortion opponents led by Jeff Jimerson, a Corvallis graphics designer. After failed attempts in the last three election cycles, Jimerson’s group finally qualified for the ballot this year.
Opponents ran a well-funded campaign — largely financed by Planned Parenthood affiliates from around the country — that argued that Measure 106 was a backdoor effort to deny access to abortion for low-income women.
By election night, disclosure reports showed opponents had raised $3.7 million, compared to less than $300,000 for the backers of the initiative.
Measure 106 sought to amend the state Constitution to prohibit state funding for abortion, except to save the life of the mother and in other cases in which federal funding is allowed. Currently, the federal government also allows abortion in cases of rape and incest.
Congress has long prohibited using federal funds for most abortions, and it’s a practice followed by 33 other states. Oregon is one of 17 states, mostly on the West and East Coasts, that have continued to provide this funding.
In the last year, about 3,600 Oregon women have had abortions paid for by the state through the Oregon Health Plan, at a cost of about $2 million.
Backers of Measure 106 argued that they weren’t trying to ban abortion. Instead, they said they didn’t think taxpayers should have to pay for a procedure that they and many other people oppose on moral grounds.
“Since it’s so controversial and people have different views on it, we should have the freedom to vote on it,” Yes on 106 spokeswoman Nichole Bentz said in an interview during the campaign.
The Yes on 106 campaign did not even receive financial backing from the state’s largest anti-abortion group, Oregon Right to Life. That group’s leaders said they were instead focused on legislative races. But Right to Life had long shied away from taking on state funding for abortion after voters rejected similar measures in 1978 and 1986.
Oregon voters also have twice rejected initiatives that would have required parental notice for minors seeking an abortion. And in 1990, voters rejected an initiative to ban most abortions.