PRO-CHOICE POLITICS withstood a fierce national fight this month, after the US Senate blocked a Republican bid to defund Planned Parenthood. But in Oregon—home to more Planned Parenthood users per capita than any other state—the debate has mostly avoided the limelight.
So how has the pro-choice movement fared in Salem this year? Better than it has in Washington, DC, with at least mixed success in the state legislature. But here's the truth: Both sides' agendas have stalled this year. Here's a quick rundown.
The debate first flared up earlier this month. A Planned Parenthood-backed bill to regulate crisis pregnancy centers, the more than 50 Christian-backed facilities in Oregon that offer counseling and prenatal care—but refuse to refer for abortion or birth control services ["State of Choice," Feature, Sept 2, 2010]—failed to reach the House floor. Meanwhile, a bill that would have banned abortions in Oregon after 20 weeks also flopped, but after a hearing, which means it got further than any anti-abortion bill has come in six years.
"Right to Life is more fired up than they've ever been," says Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon spokeswoman Rose Kelsch. "This was the first time in six years that the Oregon Legislature held a hearing on an anti-choice bill."
Then, on Friday, April 15, pro-choice advocates cheered a symbolic victory when a resolution called "Birth Control Matters" cleared a hurdle in a legislative committee. Planned Parenthood is trying to get every state legislature to sign a letter urging the feds to add birth control to the list of services covered under the new national health care plan. Some legislatures, like Florida's, have refused to vote. After last week's committee hearing, the letter heads to the full Oregon House.
But how far will the measure go? Early the next morning, on Saturday, April 16, 500 pro-life supporters (including families and teens) turned up at the airport Holiday Inn for the annual Oregon Right to Life Conference. This year's theme: "Welcome Life, Protect it by Law." Interestingly, 26 Republican state legislators signed on as sponsors of the event, their faces printed yearbook-style in the program.
The convention's tables proffered vitriolic anti-abortion and anti-Planned Parenthood pamphlets (such as "Klan Parenthood" and "Conceived in Rape: A Story of Hope"), in addition to lighter fare like fetus-shaped Silly Bandz.
As nine protesters chanted outside, keynote speaker and former Planned Parenthood worker Abby Johnson detailed the "misconceptions" about the nation's largest family-planning provider: That its mission is to "keep abortion rare" and that abortion is safe if performed correctly.
"As ridiculous as these claims seem to us, the majority of our Congress believes them," Johnson told the crowded room. "I have to wonder who voted them into office: Was it Planned Parenthood or their constituency?"
"Frankly, we lost some seats in the house," says Planned Parenthood's Kelsch. "Thankfully, the majority of Oregonians are pro-choice."