Two major opposing forces on abortion rights in Oregon say that the Republican running for Bend’s House seat is trying to win over both pro- and anti-abortion voters, which they say is a dangerous political move.
Oregon Right to Life, the leading anti-abortion group in the state, has rescinded its recommendation for Knute Buehler in the race for House District 54, its executive director told The Bulletin on Thursday.
Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon also held a rally in Bend on Thursday saying that Buehler “is trying to have it both ways” on abortion rights.
Candidates often find support from one of those two groups, which have historically contributed heavily to campaigns. But after Buehler affirmed he supports abortion rights, and after declining to participate in Planned Parenthood’s endorsement process, he now has support from neither group.
“You can’t sit on the fence on an issue like this,” said Gayle Atteberry, executive director of Oregon Right to Life. “What you do is you anger both sides.”
Right to Life recommended Buehler in its voters’ guide released before the May 20 primary. As part of the recommendation process, Atteberry said candidates complete a written questionnaire and in-person interview.
She said a recommendation is a step below a full endorsement and means a candidate “is not fully pro-life, but he or she agrees with us on the majority of the life issues.”
Atteberry declined to comment on what Buehler said during the in-person meeting that earned him a recommendation.
Since the primary, Buehler, a knee surgeon looking to become the only doctor in the House, included a line on his website that “I am pro-choice and believe the issue of abortion should remain between a woman and her doctor — not government and politicians.”
That, and Buehler’s comments in interviews with the media, led to Right to Life dropping its recommendation, which Atteberry said is a rare step for the group to make.
“We have rescinded his recommendation and it looks to me like he’s in no man’s land,” Atteberry said.
Buehler responded to the groups’ criticisms with a written statement Thursday.
“I am pro-choice. I am pro-contraception. I am pro-women’s health,” Buehler said. “If elected I will keep an open door to discuss to all sides of these important issues.”
Planned Parenthood supporters and leaders held a small rally in downtown Bend Thursday holding signs with questions directed at Buehler.
“If Knute was trying to have it both ways on tax policy, the really tough questions would be asked,” said Laura Terrill Patten, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon.
The group also sent a written statement that criticized the Buehler campaign’s decision not to participate in its endorsement process.
An email exchange provided by Buehler campaign manager Jennifer Stephens shows the campaign declined to respond to the Planned Parenthood endorsement questionnaire, but offered after the June 13 deadline to meet in person.
Planned Parenthood, which endorsed Buehler’s Democratic opponent, Craig Wilhelm, helped create a website and advertisement questioning Buehler’s stance on abortion earlier this month. The website was paid for by FuturePAC, the campaign arm of Oregon House Democrats.
FuturePAC leaders have said the race is important as Democrats try to build on a four-seat lead in the House.
The seat in Bend opened when Republican Rep. Jason Conger ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate now held by Jeff Merkley, a Democrat. Conger lost in a primary to Monica Wehby.