Vote No on Measure 106

Oregon Measure 106 would amend the state Constitution to prohibit the use of state funds for abortions. The practical result of this initiative would be to make abortion an out-of-pocket expense for women who receive health insurance as state employees as well as for women who receive health benefits through the state’s Medicaid program, the Oregon Health Plan.

The Oregon legislature last year passed important reproductive health care legislation that requires all health plans in Oregon to provide a range of reproductive health services, including abortion, without any out-of-pocket expenses. Measure 106 would penalize some 77,000 women who work for the state, including teachers, social workers, police officers, health care workers, and clerical workers. This would make their public service an even greater sacrifice.

Proponents of the measure argue that taxpayer money should not be used to fund abortions. It isn’t. Taxpayer money is used to compensate state workers. It pays their salaries and it provides additional benefits, including paid sick leave and paid vacation time. It pays premiums for health insurance. How the employee uses those benefits is their choice.

A state employee can use their taxpayer paid vacation time to attend a white supremacist rally, even though that is out of sync with the values of the vast majority of Oregonians. She can use her salary to gamble or buy illegal drugs. We might not agree with her choices, but we can agree that the compensation she receives for her public service is hers. Health insurance is no different. The state pays the health insurance premiums of its worker, and the worker and her health care provider then get to decide what is in her best interest. As a taxpayer, I have no more right to peer over a state worker’s shoulder to weigh in on her health care decisions than I do to look in her refrigerator to see if she’s buying nutritious food with her salary.

Oregon is one of the few states that fund abortions through the state’s Medicaid program. More than 271,000 women of reproductive age receive their health care through the Oregon Health Plan. Since the income cap for a single woman to be eligible for OHP is just over $16,000 per year (just under $22,000 for a family of two), it isn’t difficult to imagine that many women who rely on OHP would be unable to pay out-of-pocket for an abortion, which costs approximately as much as one month’s rent for a one-bedroom apartment (outside the city of Portland).

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Some 3,593 abortions were paid for by the OHP in the last fiscal year, and it’s not our business to know the reasons those women chose to terminate their pregnancies. That’s a matter for them and their health care provider. But we do know that pregnancy significantly increases the mother’s risk of sliding deeper into poverty, so if a woman who is already trying to survive on $16,000 a year believes she can’t provide for a child, we shouldn’t ask her to choose between paying her rent and terminating the pregnancy.

Finally, Measure 106 does not simply prohibit the use of public funds for abortions — it amends the state Constitution. The purpose of the Constitution is to establish the fundamental principles upon which the government is organized. It outlines the rights of citizens and the responsibilities of the various branches of government. It is not intended to be a labyrinth of laws, and it certainly should not be used to establish two classes of citizens: those who are entitled to a full range of reproductive health care and those who are not.