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Most Republicans vying to be Oregon’s next governor applaud possible restrictions on abortion

FILE: Oregon Capitol building in May 2021. Most Republican candidates for Oregon governor applaud additional potential abortion restrictions.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff
FILE: Oregon Capitol building in May 2021. Most Republican candidates for Oregon governor applaud additional potential abortion restrictions.

Most say they would support new restrictions on Oregonians' access to reproductive health care, while others say they’d respect current state law.

Oregon leaders often praise the state’s strong protection of reproductive rights, which is codified in the state’s constitution. But most of the Republican candidates for governor say they would work to reduce those protections if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

In responses to a candidate questionnaire sent this spring by OPB, five candidates — Stan Pulliam, Bob Tiernan, Bridge Barton, Amber Richardson and Bill Sizemore — said they would pursue new restrictions on abortions in Oregon. None went into depth about what that would look like.

Four others — Court Boice, Tim McCloud, Brandon Merritt and Nick Hess — said they would support a voter referendum to remove abortion protections within Oregon’s constitution.

Only one, Jessica Gomez, the founder and CEO of Rogue Valley Microdevices, said she wouldn’t pursue any new restrictions on reproductive health.

And in a debate hosted Tuesday by the City Club of Portland and KGW, the topic of what happens if Roe goes away emerged as one of the cardinal issues for the GOP candidates. They spent more than 10 minutes of the 90-minute forum debating news that the U.S. Supreme Court might be on the verge of overturning the Roe decision and the impact in Oregon.

Four front runners — Jessica Gomez, Bud Pierce, Stan Pulliam and Bridget Barton — were asked what the new decision means for their plans as governor.

Gomez doubled down, saying she’s firmly “pro-choice” and stands behind abortion being a constitutionally protected right. She does, however, stand against using Oregon tax dollars to help pregnant people from other states access abortions here.

Oncologist and 2016 GOP nominee Bud Pierce described himself as “pro life,” but said he believes in obeying federal and state law and would rather focus efforts on supporting pregnant people with child care and education so they feel less pressure to pursue an abortion.

“My effort will be on supporting women who are pregnant so that they’ll want to continue their pregnancy if they so desire,” Pierce said.

Pierce was pressed in the debate for what a moderator described as “flip-flopping” on the question of abortion; in his 2016 campaign, he said he supported the state’s policies of access to reprodructive health care. Pierce said he did not flip flop, but reevaluated his position following his wife’s 2020 death.

Bridget Barton, a conservative author and political consultant, said she supports the high court’s apparent forthcoming decision, and disagrees with the state’s current policies.

She said she’d walk back funding set aside by the Oregon Legislature that helps people in Oregon and from other states access abortions here. State lawmakers recently approved $15 million for the state’s Reproductive Health Equity Fund in response to new laws or efforts to restrict access in states like Texas, Idaho, Mississippi and Florida.

“Millions of dollars allocated for what we’re now referring to as ‘abortion vacations’ for people outside the state to come in here and use our taxpayer dollars for their abortions,” she said. “”Most Oregonians I believe don’t agree with that.”

Stan Pulliam, the mayor of Sandy, offered the most aggressive opinion in terms of restricting access to abortion. He released a statement Tuesday saying, “I’ve waited for this moment my whole life.”

In the debate, he attacked his opponents for being, in his view, too progressive on their views on reproductive rights. He noted that he was not endorsed by the advocacy group Oregon Right to Life, which endorsed four other candidates: Pierce, former House Minority Leader Christine Drazan, Barton and Tiernan.

“I hope Oregon Right to Life, their board, their funders, and activists are watching this debate,” he said. “These answers are a complete embarrassment for anyone who’s received the Oregon Right to Life endorsement.”

Pulliam said he would sign any law “pro-life piece of legislation.” (The chances of such legislation reaching any governor’s desk remain quite slim given the Democratic Party’s firm hold on both chambers of the Oregon Legislature.)

Pulliam went on to criticize Christine Drazan, a fellow Republican frontrunner candidate and former Oregon House minority leader, specifically for her views on reproductive rights.

“I think Oregon Right to Life, on the heels of the televised debate last week, with a watered down answer from Christine Drazan where she said she would only veto deals that extended abortion access… they should re-look at their endorsement,” Pulliam said.

Drazan dropped out of the City Club of Portland/KGW debate Tuesday just hours before it was set to begin. Her campaign staff noted that she has participated in several debates and public forums, including two televised debates in recent weeks.

Drazan’s campaign did not immediately respond to OPB’s request for comment on her views on reproductive rights and abortion access. She declined to fill out the issue questionnaire sent out by OPB this spring, and she did not respond to requests to discuss her campaign and talk about the issues on OPB’s Think Out Loud.

The two most prominent Democratic candidates for governor, State Treasurer Tobias Read and former Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, both support Oregon’s current abortion protections. Betsy Johnson, a longtime state legislator who is attempting to collect enough signatures to make the November general election ballot as an unaffiliated candidate, has also said she backs Oregon’s existing laws.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Sam Stites