Women’s health activists lobby Salem

Hundreds of abortion rights activists, including several Portland State students, arrived in Salem to lobby for better reproductive healthcare for Oregonian women Thursday.

Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/Willamette hosted the statewide event.

"We have people coming from as far as Bend, Grants Pass and all the house congressional districts," said Tess Fields, Planned Parenthood organizer of Pro-Choice Lobby Day.

After registration, participants attended lobby-training meetings to learn how to support or challenge a legislative bill. A rally was held outside the capital, followed by three hours of meetings with legislators.

These newly trained lobbyists have come to support reproductive healthcare in Oregon, an issue they feel is severely at risk with the current administration.

At the end of the day, Planned Parenthood had trained hundreds of women to become actively involved in local politics around issues of reproductive health, access and a woman’s right to choose.

Abortion rights lobbyists will support the existing Oregon law requiring insurance companies to provide access and coverage for mammograms, gynecological exams and prenatal care, which expires this year.

Other issues included contraceptive equity and Senate Bill 756, which requires insurance companies to cover birth control. Oregon is one of the few states that does not legally require insurance companies to cover this expense.

According to Planned Parenthood, women pay an average 68 percent more out of pocket for health care expenses than men every year in order to cover their prescription costs. This gender gap is mostly due to reproductive health care expenses. Many insurance providers do not cover the cost of birth control.

According to a study published by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the cost of full coverage expenses for prescription birth control total around $1.43 per employee per month. The institute has stated that most insurance plans consider contraception an "elective" service comparable to cosmetic surgery.

Supporters of Senate Bill 756 argue that the lack of access to birth control and abstinence-only education will increase unintended pregnancies. Almost half of unintended pregnancies end in abortion.

Lobbyists also focused on the Freedom of Choice Act, which would reconfirm the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, ensuring all women reproductive freedom and protecting those rights for future generations.

Karen Minnis, Speaker of the House, has introduced House Bill 2020, which would change the definition of a human being to include embryos and fetuses at any stage. As a result, the unborn child would have all the legal rights of a victim if any violent crimes occur against the mother.

Minnis claims the bill is not against a woman’s right to choose an abortion. However, opponents contend that the language could be used to eliminate legal abortions if the embryo or fetus has legal status as a human being.

"NARAL [National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League] is opposed to House Bill 2020 (also known as the Laci Peterson Bill)," said Caroline Fitchett, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon. "It is specifically designed to undermine the freedom of a woman’s right to choose. The legislature needs to acknowledge the problem of domestic violence against pregnant women without entangling the abortion debate."

Senate Majority Leader Kate Brown has sponsored Senate Bill 712, which would entitle stronger punishment for criminals of violence against pregnant women without giving the fetus the same status as a separate victim from the mother.

"We need to focus on fully funding domestic violence prevention programs, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, counseling and anger management," Fitchett said. "These programs have been significantly under funded over the last few legislative sessions."

For more information, visit www.ppcw.org, www.naral.org or www.leg.state.or.us.