Friday, February 02, 2007

Oregon Gets an A-Minus From NARAL

I feel as if Oregonians often take matters of choice mostly for granted. I suppose in the wake of the strong defeat of Measure 43 (regarding parental notification) last year, you could look at it either way: because it was defeated we must therefore be sufficiently cognizant of the importance of choice issues; or, because it was defeated now everyone assumes that this is a solidly pro-choice state and we can all relax and congratulate ourselves for being so open minded.

NARAL's national organization seems to feel much the same way, it appears, having given Oregon a grade of A-minus in their annual ranking of states on choice issues. That grade is good enough to put us in the top 10 nationwide, but something about a "minus" grade automatically makes you wonder what you did to "earn" it. In this case, the only apparent blemish on Oregon's record is the law allowing private hospitals and individuals the right to "opt-out" on moral grounds from providing services or information regarding abortion. Here's what NARAL says about it:
Oregon allows certain individuals or entities to refuse to provide abortion services.

To whom does the refusal clause apply? Physicians, medical staff members, and hospitals.

What does the refusal clause allow? No physician is required to participate in or give advice about abortion if he or she discloses this election to the patient. No hospital employee or medical staff member who notifies the hospital of an election against participating in abortion may be required to participate. No private hospital is required to admit a woman for the purpose of abortion. The refusal of a private hospital to participate in abortion, in accordance with a policy not to admit women for abortion, may not be a basis for civil liability where the hospital notifies the woman seeking admission of its policy. Public hospitals are not permitted to adopt policies of refusing admission to women seeking abortions.

Does the law require the refusing entity to notify the persons affected? Yes. Private hospitals must notify women seeking admission for abortion services of their policy. Physicians must disclose their refusal to the patient.

Are there circumstances under which a refusal clause may not be exercised? No.

Does the law require the refusing individual or entity to provide medically and factually accurate information or provide a referral for abortion services? No.

Does the law provide a mechanism for women to otherwise obtain specific reproductive health services, information, or referrals if an individual and/or entity exercises a refusal clause? No.

Or. Rev. Stat. § 435.475, .485
(Enacted 1969; Last Amended 1983).
There is a separate, similar section (§ 435.225 9) pertaining to family planning and birth control that runs along the same lines. On a philosophical basis I can understand the benefits of those statutes. Within reason, the government really shouldn't be in the business of forcing private entities to behave in ways that directly confront their religious or moral beliefs.

But I did say "within reason," didn't I? The two most dangerous parts of the laws (which were both enacted in the 1960s and haven't been touched in almost 25 years) are the lack of exceptions and the lack of coerced referrals. If I read this correctly (and I have feelers out to corroborate my theory), if a woman with gynecological hemmorhage staggers into a private hospital or clinic and there is no one there who is willing to perform an emergency abortion in order to save the woman (and/or fetus), they can legally turn her away. This strikes me as so outrageous that I feel I must be wrong--there has to be an overriding state law mandating emergency care no matter what, right?--but sadly it would not surprise me to be correct.

To almost literally add insult to injury, when a provider exercises her right to opt out, she is under no compulsion to refer the prospective patient to another provider who will help. To which I say: you've gotta be fuckin' kidding me. The theoretical right of a person not to practice medicine they are opposed to cannot run roughshod over a woman's right to receive a fully legal medical procedure--but that's exactly what this codicile does. Even in states with similar laws regarding the right of pharmacists to refuse dispensing birth control, there is usually a requirement to refer the patient to someone who will. Not in Oregon. That needs to be changed.

Another thing that probably sticks in NARAL's craw about Oregon is the effective level of access to abortions for women across the state--and frankly, this often-missed concept is really where the rubber hits the road. If an abortion provider is 200 miles away from you, in many cases you might as well live in a state that bans abortions, and women in 78% of Oregon's counties indeed have to cross county lines to have their procedure. Thankfully there are no serious substantive delays in place that would force women to return on a separate day after the initial consult, which of course would force them to either drive twice or pay for lodging. Free choice?--feh.

So there's work left to be done in order to ensure full exercise of choice for Oregon's women, but at least for today we can feel good about maintaining the spirit of Roe, and holding the line against incursions of our sisters' liberties. And that's nothing to sneeze at.