Roe reversal can only be undone at ballot box

A pending U.S. Supreme Court opinion promises to do much, much more than simply overturn the court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade and 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey right-to-abortion decisions, monumental as that precedent-shattering act might seem in its own right.

By placing more emphasis on constitutional literalism and less on judicial precedent, it also threatens to erode, if not eliminate, federal protections based on race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, among others.

Already, deep red states in the Old South and Intermountain West are moving to outlaw if not criminalize abortion and its facilitation; prevent residents from crossing state lines to seek abortions;  reduce or eliminate rape and incest exemptions or post-conception grace periods; follow Texas in allowing virtually unlimited civil action against alleged facilitators; enact laws granting legal “personhood” status from the moment of conception; threaten in-vitro fertilization, which accounts for about 2% of all U.S. births. 

In Georgia, calls have been issued for a special session to eliminate altogether a window already reduced to a mere six weeks. In Louisiana, a bill has been introduced subjecting parties involved in an abortion to prosecution and sentencing under its homicide statutes. 

And it doesn’t stop there.

Even though there is no legitimate scientific basis, the leading edge is also pushing to bar popular birth control options, including injection, implant, IUD and day-after pill options, as abortifacients. And it is continuing to battle sex education and family planning programs offered through public school and health agencies. 

Challenges to gay rights, same-sex marriage, sex-reassignment surgery and transsexual accommodations can’t be far down the line. Even further afield, the pending ruling already has Texas threatening to challenge the right to public education, allowing it to bar immigrant children lacking legal status and funnel public tax dollars into private school alternatives.

Let us be clear where we stand.

We regard a woman’s right to choose as a fundamental human right subject to no greater legislative restriction than those granted in our Constitution’s foundational Bill of Rights. And we have a lot of company in that.

A Gallup poll conducted annually since 1975 shows 80% percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal in some (48%) if not all (32%) circumstances. It shows there has been almost no change over the course of its 47-year history, and that support remains substantial even among registered Republicans.

Meanwhile, a recent lurch to the right by justices who denied at confirmation any intent to overturn Roe, has caused confidence in the nation’s high court to crash. Polls show the share of registered voters expressing at least “some” degree of confidence has fallen from 70% to 51% in just 18 months.

By signaling the handoff of abortion jurisdiction to legislators on the state and federal levels, the court has even blue and swing states scrambling to formulate or modify regulations. And pushing authority down the chain of command is sure to encourage at least some counties to join the party, particularly when their views might run cross-grain.

In Oregon, a national reproductive health leader, that means potentially finetuning the Reproductive Health Equity Act of 2017, getting much more serious about enforcement of the act’s insurance coverage guarantees and deciding how much to fund and facilitate an anticipated influx of abortion clients from other states, notably highly restrictive Idaho.

In Yamhill County, still subject to a 1997 ordinance barring employees from facilitating abortion “by any means,” the court action would be more likely to prompt moves to impose further restriction. Recent attempts to frustrate state firearm, mask and vaccination regulations suggest forms such moves might take.

There is precedent, as the county went several years without any family planning program after then-Commissioners Rob Johnstone and Tom Bunn teamed up to enact the 1997 facilitation ban.

The pending court action also promises to send waves rippling through the political process at all levels. We foresee particular ramifications in county races for commissioner, sheriff and district attorney, state races for legislator, governor and attorney general, and federal races for congressional representative and president.

One resolution that can’t be ruled out is action by Congress to reimpose national unity on its terms. And were the presidency and both chambers to fall under sway of the same party at the same time, that resolution could prove deeply objectionable in many parts of the country. 

At the local level, the sharpest immediate contrast locally looms in the county commission race pitting former Planned Parenthood exec Doris Towery against former Oregonians for Life exec Mary Starrett.

Towery was among featured speakers at a local protest rally staged shortly after the news broke.

She said the court action would not end abortion, only “legal and safe” abortion. She told fellow protesters she shared their anger and frustration, but continued to believe, “if we all vote, we can stop this in our county.”


The power lies with the people in a democracy, and they exercise it through free elections. If you want to foster change, that’s how you go about it.


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