A year after Oregon lawmakers passed a groundbreaking measure requiring all insurance companies in the state to cover abortions, Oregon voters will decide whether public funds should be used to terminate a pregnancy.

Measure 106 would amend the state constitution to prohibit the use of public funds for abortions, mainly through the Oregon Health Plan and the Public Employees Benefits Board, which provides health insurance to state employees.

Proponents of the measure argue that Oregonians should have a say in whether their tax dollars are used to pay for something that is as divisive as abortion.

“This doesn’t stop anyone from choosing an abortion. It’s not a ban on abortions,” said Nicole Bentz, chief spokeswoman for Yes on Measure 106. “We think abortion is too controversial for our tax dollars.”

Opponents counter the measure is a back-door ban on abortions that would primarily affect low-income women and their families. According to Planned Parenthood officials, the measure would affect some 350,000 women in Oregon.

“It’s going to limit access to abortion, which is part of a full range of reproductive services that everyone needs to have to access to,” said Anne Udall, president of Planned Parenthood Columbia-Willamette. “It will restrict the use of public funds in way that will limit access to women in Oregon who most need help and services.”

The Oregon Health Plan — Oregon’s Medicaid — paid for 3,593 abortions in the fiscal year ending June 20, spending more than $1.9 million.

“A woman who is on Medicaid would be denied the right to have an abortion without paying out of pocket,” Udall said. “That’s a $500 to $550 expense.”

While the state would save money on abortion spending, an independent analysis concluded the measure would increase overall costs for the state, which pays for the majority of births in Oregon, by about $10 million per year.

Abortion rates have been steadily dropping in Oregon, which some have attributed to increase access to contraceptives and family planning services.

Bentz said Measure 106 was not designed to target any particular group of women and said that if opponents were concerned about affordability for low-income women, they could help fund those procedures.

“For decades, the pro-life community has supported women who choose life without public funds,” she said. “So maybe that would be a question for groups that support abortion: Would they be able to do that?”

Abortion foes have been trying to get a public funds ban on the ballot since 2010. This is year is the first year backers have been able to get enough signatures to send the measure to a vote.

“We have people who identify as pro-life and pro-choice that support this,” Bentz said. “That’s something we don’t see very often, both sides agreeing on something.”

Udall, however, expressed confidence that Oregonians would vote down the measure, continuing their long tradition of supporting access to abortions.

“This ballot is not new,” she said. “Every time they’re on the ballot, they get defeated. This is just one more attempt to chip away at women’s rights.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2162, mhawryluk@bendbulletin.com

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