July 23, 2024

Abortion, transgender care bill that nearly torpedoed Oregon legislative session heads to governor

Supporters of an Oregon bill to expand access to abortion and gender-affirming care posed outside the state Capitol in April after a rally and ahead of the bill’s first hearing. Oregon Capital Chronicle photo by Julia Shumway
June 22, 2023

Nearly a dozen House Republicans boycotted the vote

By Julia Shumway, Oregon Capital Chronicle

The abortion and gender-affirming care bill that nearly torpedoed the Oregon legislative session is headed to Gov. Tina Kotek after a final intense debate on the House floor.

An amended version of House Bill 2002 passed the House on a 35-12 vote Wednesday, with nearly a dozen Republicans opting to stay away from the Capitol to protest the measure. Senate Republicans spent six weeks blocking a Senate vote on the measure before returning to the chamber late last week after extracting concessions from Democrats.

The measure, which Kotek is expected to sign, will protect providers who perform abortions or gender-affirming care from prosecution or civil liability as other states restrict or ban such care. It also would strengthen requirements that health insurers cover reproductive health care and gender-affirming care, including treatments like facial feminization surgery and electrolysis that are now treated as cosmetic procedures.

The measure is the product of a state work group formed last summer after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and the national right to abortion. Work group member and Portland Democratic Rep. Travis Nelson said in a statement to the Capital Chronicle that Democrats committed to defend and safeguard the rights Oregonians had before that decision. 

“I’m proud to say we fulfilled that commitment and also made sure Oregon is a welcoming and safe state for LGBTQ+ communities by expanding access to lifesaving gender-affirming care,” Nelson said. 

The amended version would require health care providers to tell parents or guardians about patients younger than 15 seeking abortions unless the provider determines that informing a parent could result in abuse or neglect or if a second health care provider with a different facility agrees that it wouldn’t be in the child’s best interest to involve a parent. 

A previous version of the bill would have allowed minors of any age to obtain an abortion without parental consent. It also contained since-removed grant funds for abortion and other reproductive health care on college campuses and in rural areas.

The changes were enough to bring some Senate Republicans back and allow the Legislature to resume work, but House Republicans were under pressure to block the bill. Rep. Emily McIntire, an Eagle Point Republican who sued the state over the bill, said she and other House Republicans have received hundreds of emails from constituents telling them they were terrible people and that they needed to walk out to block the measure, a tool Oregon Republicans have because the state requires two-thirds of legislators be present to conduct any business.

“We Republicans are strongly protesting,” said Rep. Christine Goodwin, R-Canyonville and one of the 14 Republicans on the floor. Some, she said, were protesting by staying away from the Capitol, while others stayed to argue against the measure. 

Republican Reps. Court Boice of Gold Beach, Shelly Boshart Davis of Albany, Tracy Cramer of Gervais, Ed Diehl of Stayton, James Hieb of Canby, Bobby Levy of Echo, Lily Morgan of Grants Pass, Virgle Osborne of Roseburg, E. Werner Reschke of Klamath Falls, Anna Scharf of Amity and Boomer Wright of Coos Bay were not in the House for the vote, though Boice arrived nearly an hour later to vote on other bills. Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, briefly stepped out of the chamber before the vote. 

Reschke, who was the Republican whip, and Boshart Davis, deputy minority leader, also quit their leadership positions. They’ll remain in the Legislature.

One Republican, Rep. Charlie Conrad of Dexter, joined every Democrat to vote for the bill, as he did when it first passed the House in May. An anti-abortion group, Oregon Right to Life, launched an effort this week to unseat the first-term representative over that vote. 

Lawmakers were late getting to a vote on House Bill 2002 after a building-wide internet outage that also interrupted web services for several state agencies prevented the House and Senate from coming to the floor until early afternoon. 

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix, Arizona.

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Bert Etling

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