In Part I of this series, I made a sincere attempt to illustrate the true political makeup of Oregon. That is, the rural, redneck, conservative, tractor-driving Oregon that exists beyond the boutique coffee roasters of Portland. Now I want to shift to rural women in Oregon. Growing up in rural Oregon, I want to talk about the lived experience of Oregon natives. Those who live two, or three, or seven hours from a metropolitan center. And specifically, in Part II of this discussion, I want to talk about abortion access.
Oregon is the only state in the country with no major abortion restriction on the books: There are no mandatory waiting periods, no minor consent requirements, and no limits on public funding for abortion services. In fact, the only restriction listed under the Public Health and Safety code, is a clause allowing individual physicians or private hospitals to refuse providing abortion services. Additionally, Oregon passed a law last year allowing pharmacists to prescribe and distribute contraceptives.
Of course, these extremely liberal policies do not please the many anti-choice organizations in Oregon. Just take a look at this cheeky, if not offensively sarcastic, article from a pro-life publication, titled, “Oregon ‘best state to have sex in’ because of easy abortions.” Further, Oregon Right to Life strategically smears Oregon’s abortion laws by stating that, “Oregon is the only state in America with NO protective pro-life laws.” [Emphasis added]
Yes, Oregon has exceptional protection for reproductive rights. And yes, Oregonians have virtually no legal barriers to abortion access. So at this point you’re probably thinking: what’s the problem? Well, let me tell you what the problem is…spatial privilege! The most pro-choice abortion laws in America do little to nothing for you if you can’t get to a clinic. And thus access can’t just mean legal accessibility; it has to mean physical accessibility as well.
There are currently twelve abortion clinics in the state of Oregon. Of these twelve, half are located in the Portland Metro Area. Five of the remaining six clinics are in smaller cities up and down Interstate-5, along the western portion of the state, leaving just one clinic east of the Cascades. According to the latest report from Pro-Choice America, 78% of Oregon counties have no abortion clinics. It is certainly true that many (if not most) Oregonians live near one of these cities with an abortion clinic, but not all Oregonians. Oregon is a large state. So for those women who reside on the coast or in the far eastern portion of the state, the road to an abortion clinic is likely long.
These facts and figures are probably quite abstract for anyone who is not intimately familiar with Oregon geography, so I will give you a couple hypotheticals. First, let’s consider a young woman who needs an abortion, but lives in my coastal hometown of Newport, OR. The closest clinic is located in Corvallis, about an hour and fifteen minutes away, but they only offer abortions up to nine weeks. If this woman were farther along, she’d have to get to Eugene, about two hours away, where there are two clinics that provide abortions up to 14 weeks. If she needed an abortion at any time after 14 weeks, she would have to travel all the way to Portland, nearly three hours away. And if she doesn’t have a car? There are only two buses that leave Newport each day to get to Corvallis. To Portland, she’d have to transfer to a train, and then do it all over again to get home. This is all under the assumption that she has the money and time to make this trip.
For a woman in an even more distant and rural area of Oregon, the logistics of obtaining an abortion are further complicated. If a woman in Baker City, a town in eastern Oregon, needs an abortion she’ll have to travel nearly five hours to Bend (services up to 9 weeks), or about the same distance to Portland (up to 24 weeks). And if she doesn’t have a car, a round-trip Greyhound ticket to either location will run her anywhere from $120-$180.
In sum, my point is this: when it comes to reproductive rights generally, and abortion access in particular, place matters. You can live in a state with NO major restrictions on abortion services, and still be extremely limited in your options because of spatial disadvantage. The right to family planning and to have an abortion should be unqualified. “Access” cannot simply mean legality. Women should not be limited in their reproductive choices simply because they live in a rural area.