State money meant to expand access to abortions in Oregon is months away from being put to use, state officials say.
The $15 million will be awarded as grants to nonprofits in Oregon, but the process to do so is just getting underway.
“Time is of the essence and they know it,” said state Sen. Kate Lieber, D-Beaverton, who’s tracking the money.
The organizations feel added urgency to act after the disclosure Monday of a draft U.S. Supreme Court ruling that would repeal the federal right to an abortion.
The Oregon Legislature in February established the Reproductive Health Equity Fund to ensure that diverse groups, rural residents and low-income residents have access to an abortion. That right is in Oregon law – and the procedures are free.
Legislators also intended to expand services in the state, especially in eastern Oregon, where women traditionally have traveled to Boise, Idaho for their health care.
The Legislature specified that Seeding Justice, a Portland nonprofit advocacy group for equity and diversity, distribute the funds.
The Guttmacher Institute, a research group that tracks reproductive rights, has predicted that thousands of people a year from Idaho and other states that ban abortions could seek care in Oregon if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Oregon Health Authority is currently working with Seeding Justice on the grant and contracting materials before opening the door to proposals.
Samantha Bakall, spokeswoman for Seeding Justice, said representatives of abortion and civil rights groups – Pro-Choice Oregon, Planned Parenthood, Forward Together Action, the Northwest Abortion Access Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union – will analyze the applications and pick which ones to fund. But that process can’t start until the Oregon Department of Justice approves the contract materials, said Danny Moran, spokesman for the state House Speaker Dan Rayfield, a Democratic representative from Corvallis.
One likely recipient is the Northwest Abortion Access Fund in Eugene, which pays abortion-related expenses for women in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska. Lieber said legislators approved the money in part in anticipation of stepped up demand from out-of-state residents seeking abortions in Oregon.
The state also needs more clinics, Lieber said.
“Someone might come in for a grant for brick-and-mortar clinics in eastern Oregon,” Lieber said. “We don’t have enough. Even though abortion is legal here, not everyone in the state has equal access to it,” she said.
Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette in Portland has leased space in Ontario, but the organization has declined to release details.
Some sections of the Oregon coast also need more clinics to serve reproductive health care, and tribal territories lack facilities and equipment, Lieber said. Legislators also want the equity fund to increase and diversify the workforce, something that’s been a problem for health care providers over the past two years.
One potential use of the money would be to train physicians and physician assistants in providing abortions.
“That would be a great use of the money because you’re expanding the number of clinicians who could do it,” Lieber said.
Organizations that educate people about abortion law and services are likely candidates for funding as well. If the Supreme Court acts as anticipated, some people may think that abortions are illegal everywhere when they would remain legal in Oregon.
“There could be a grantee that does that,” Lieber said.
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