The U.S. Supreme Court decision last month to overturn the federal right to abortion set off a scramble among the leading candidates for Oregon governor on how they would address the suddenly top-of-mind issue.
At least for now, abortion is a hotly contested question, but it remains unclear how important that issue will be to voters by the time ballots are cast in November. As recently as January, a DHM Research poll found abortion to be the least selected of the issues that pollsters asked Oregonians to rank as the top issue affecting their choice of a governor.
For Democratic nominee Tina Kotek, who’s used to the challenge of defending the record of the current governor and party in power, the abortion issue is refreshingly simple: She’ll increase any abortion protection she can. But for her two opponents—Republican nominee Christine Drazan and unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson—it’s more complicated, as they try to appeal to voters on both sides of the issue. In fact, it’s difficult to say exactly how they would govern on the question.
Here are three clues:
1. Johnson says she has a strong Democratic record on abortion—possibly better than Kotek’s.
“I was on a Planned Parenthood board in Oregon before Tina was even an Oregonian,” Johnson said in a statement. “I left the Republican Party over their extreme position on women and gay rights.”
Kotek says there’s reason to doubt both her opponents on abortion. “There is only one candidate who voters can trust to fight for reproductive freedom—Tina,” says Kotek spokeswoman Katie Wertheimer. “That’s why she is the only candidate endorsed by Planned Parenthood PAC of Oregon and Pro-Choice Oregon.”
2. A prominent Johnson supporter says she and Drazan are “virtually identical” on abortion.
In a video released June 30, former Republican candidate for governor Bridget Barton, now leading a group called “Republicans for Betsy,” defended her support for a pro-choice Johnson. She assured Republicans worried about Johnson’s pro-choice record: “Drazan and Johnson are virtually identical on this issue. They’re both fine with the status quo.”
A Johnson campaign consultant liked Barton’s video on Twitter, but a spokeswoman for the campaign, Jennifer Sitton, says the two women see Johnson’s stance differently: “Betsy and Bridget both are capable of thinking and speaking for themselves. It is not necessary for us all to agree on everything except who should be the next governor.”
Drazan’s campaign argues there’s a sharp contrast. “Betsy Johnson is a proud former Planned Parenthood board member,” says Drazan campaign manager Trey Rosser. “Christine is pro-life, Betsy is not. We are focused on the issues impacting Oregonians—crime, inflation, homelessness—not on social media videos made by a failed, disgruntled politician.”
3. It’s not clear yet what abortion policies Drazan (or Johnson) would set.
Asked whether she would support legislation to ban abortions late in pregnancy, Drazan wouldn’t say. “Christine will not comment on legislation that has not reached her desk nor even been drafted yet,” says Drazan spokesman John Burke. “As it relates to the third trimester, Christine sides with the vast majority of Oregonians who support common-sense protections for life in the final stages of a pregnancy.”
Drazan’s campaign also says she’s not willing to pledge a veto for abortion funding, an idea high on the Oregon Right to Life wish list. “State budgets are incredibly complex, and she is committed to examining every budget that reaches her desk to ensure taxpayer dollars are being used to serve Oregonians and not simply advancing a political agenda,” Burke says.
Similarly, Johnson’s campaign would not say whether there was legislation that Johnson hoped to sign if elected but that Drazan would veto: “The point is, we need to keep Drazan from being governor, so we don’t have to pass legislation to protect a woman’s right to choose against an antagonistic governor.”
Kotek’s campaign was more clear on her policy priorities for abortion, including changes to the state constitution to protect abortion rights; accountability for insurers violating the Reproductive Health Equity Act; providing greater access to care, possibly by increasing the Reproductive Health Equity Fund.