Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty spoke at a press conference for her abortion rights resolution Wednesday afternoon.
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty spoke at a press conference for her abortion rights resolution Wednesday afternoon. BLAIR STENVICK

The Portland City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to pass a resolution condemning recent anti-abortion legislation passed in other states, and cementing Portland’s status as one of the leading cities in the country for abortion rights and access.

“We are about to do something that I believe is historic,” said Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who introduced the resolution at a press conference held before Wednesday’s afternoon council session. “It is very important, here and now, in this moment in time we are living in.”

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In April and May of this year, several state legislatures passed laws that either outright banned or severely limited abortion access. Oregon has long been recognized as being one of the best states in the country for abortion access—just last year, Oregonians strongly voted down a ballot measure that would have restricted public funding for abortions—and Hardesty said she sees it as Oregonians’ duty to not “rest on our laurels” and instead work to secure abortion access for all Americans.

The resolution directs Portland’s city attorneys to file amicus briefs in any future lawsuits challenging anti-abortion legislation. (Amicus briefs are informal, "friend of the court" legal support documents that can be filed by interested parties.) It specifically mentions laws in Alabama and Ohio as examples of anti-abortion legislation: In May, Alabama’s state government passed a bill outlawing abortion at every stage of pregnancy, while in April, Ohio passed a bill banning abortion after a detectable fetal heartbeat (about six weeks). Both of those laws have since been struck down in court.

“The City of Portland unequivocally condemns any attempt to restrict, prohibit, or otherwise impede access to safe and legal abortion care,” the resolution reads. “Access to safe and legal abortion services is vital to the health of people who can become pregnant and our broader community…. The City of Portland remains committed to eliminating stigma surrounding abortion so that every person in our city who makes the choice to access safe and legal abortion care will feel supported, welcome, and safe doing so.”

Hardesty said she was “thrilled to be part of a city council where the mayor and every single council member has signed on to say, 'No, this is not acceptable.'”

The resolution also directs Portland’s city attorneys to build a coalition of attorneys from other cities that have strong abortion access, so they can file amicus briefs and provide further legal support in the future if necessary.

City Council devoted about an hour of time to the resolution, which included invited testimony from NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), Forward Together, and other organizations that support Hardesty’s resolution.

That included testimony from Beth Vial, a board member of the Northwest Abortion Access Fund (NWAAF), which raises money to help people who cannot afford to cover the costs of their abortion. Vial spoke with the Mercury last year about her own experience having to travel outside of the state for an abortion, because she did not learn she was pregnant until her third trimester. From that story:

Third-trimester abortion is legal in Oregon, but neither Planned Parenthood nor the Lovejoy Abortion Clinic in Portland offer the procedure for women as far along in their pregnancy as Vial, because risk of the procedure causing physical harm to the patient rises dramatically after 24 weeks. A doctor at Oregon Health & Science University recommended Vial instead go to a clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that provides abortions for patients who are up to 28 weeks pregnant.

The abortion alone—not counting airfare, lodging, food, and the cost of taking two weeks off work—would cost Vial $10,500. Her insurance company offered to reimburse her $200.

“That gave me two weeks to compile the resources to travel down there, have a place to stay, feed myself, and then pay the deposit for the procedure,” she said.

Vial ended up getting help from friends, as well as from the NWAAF and other organizations to pay for her procedure. As a white middle-class woman, Vial says she felt more privileged than many in her position; she is now a NWAAF board member and volunteer.

In testimony submitted to City Council, Vial pointed out that New York City recently made a $250,000 investment in its local abortion fund, and called on Portland to do the same.

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“The details of my story are rare, but the experience of having to travel outside of Oregon for abortion care is not uncommon,” Vial said. “I learned that legislation isn’t everything and rights don’t always equal access.… Last week when I shared my story at an event in Seattle, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal from Washington State indicated that she would like to see that same type of investment made in New York made in the Northwest. I, on behalf of Northwest Abortion Access Fund, would like to request the same of you.”

Hardesty didn’t give a direct answer when asked by the Mercury if there are plans for the city of Portland to contribute to the NWAAF, but did say she “would hope all Portlanders would step up on this,” by making private donations or volunteering to keep abortion legal and accessible for all.

All four City Council members present voted in favor of the resolution; Commissioner Amanda Fritz was absent from the meeting because she is on vacation.

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