In most of the United States, the female body is a battleground. According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than half of US women live in states hostile to abortion rights. But not in Oregon. Here, access to abortion has survived the endless political battles over “life” vs. “choice,” and we provide more robust support for sex education and contraception than practically any other state.
According to Michele Stranger Hunter, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, it’s all part of our state’s DNA. In 1969, Oregon was one of the first states to legalize abortion, even before Roe v. Wade hit the law books. “Our policies are borne out of Oregon exceptionalism,” says Hunter. “We are progressive and libertarian. Voters on the east side of the Cascades may or may not agree with a woman’s right to access abortion, but they sure as heck agree that the government has no place in that decision.”
On a national level, the Beaver State stands out: “Oregon has worked hard to put all three systems—real sex ed, publically funded family planning, and abortion—in place that provide a foundation for reproductive health,” says Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute. “I don’t know what it is about being over by the Pacific Ocean, but it’s pretty fabulous.”
Still, nearly half of Oregon pregnancies are unintended, and major health disparities remain for minorities. But NARAL and other local advocates are confronting those challenges. For instance, Oregon is now the only state that rewards docs for talking with their patients about birth control. The program, One Key Question, has been so successful that providers in 12 other states are adopting the strategy. “It’s nothing short of phenomenal,” says Hunter. “And it’s borne of not having to play defense on abortion.”