Oregon Gubernatorial Candidates Spar Over U.S. Supreme Court Decision to Reverse Roe v. Wade

Abortion may be a higher profile issue this fall, thanks to the conservative Supreme Court decision.

FURY: A coat hanger stenciled on the pavement during a May 2022 march against the overturning of Roe v. Wade. (Blake Benard)

The U.S. Supreme Court announced arguably its most significant decision in a generation on June 24, overturning the reproductive rights established in Roe v. Wade. The decision, while widely expected since the leak of a draft opinion nearly two months ago, sparked nationwide outrage and grief.

The Dobbs v. Jackson decision also provided a wedge issue in the Oregon gubernatorial campaign, as political experts expect that abortion rights will be a higher priority in voters’ minds this year.

After the Supreme Court decision, the three leading candidates for governor weighed in today to highlight their views, two of them supporting abortion rights and the other pledging to curtail any new protections on the state level.

“Abortion bans are bullshit. And dangerous,” former House Speaker Tina Kotek, the Democratic nominee, tweeted.

“I am pro-choice,” said unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson in a statement. “This is a bedrock issue for me and, frankly, for Oregon. A fundamental right. As Oregon’s independent governor, I will always defend and protect a woman’s right to choose.”

Today’s decision won’t limit abortion in Oregon. It’s one of seven states where there’s no limit on abortion based on gestational stage. But nearby states are set to ban the procedure outright. (Idaho had enacted a ban that will go into effect 30 days after the Supreme Court decision.)

Republican gubernatorial nominee Christine Drazan didn’t promise to change Oregon law. But she did pledge to stop any expansion of abortion protections.

“Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, Oregon will continue to have among the most extreme abortion laws in the country and around the world,” said Drazan in a statement. “As governor, I will stand up for life by vetoing legislation designed to push Oregon further outside the mainstream.”

The state’s liberal abortion laws aren’t likely to change, if public opinion is any indication. Sixty-five percent of Oregonians support keeping abortion legal in all or most cases, compared to 35% who want it illegal in most or all cases, according to polling.

But that division in public opinion, along with a three-way race, opens up a possibility for Republicans. With two the other candidates splitting the pro-choice vote, Drazan could win a plurality if abortion were the deciding issue for voters.

Abortion is likely to be a factor, but not the only one. And today saw the two pro-choice campaigns sparring, as Kotek tried to position herself as the better candidate for voters who support abortion rights. In a statement, she attacked Drazan for bragging “about her long-standing support from anti-abortion extremist group Oregon Right to Life.”

And she questioned Johnson’s credentials as a pro-choice candidate.

“Meanwhile, Betsy Johnson just promoted an anti-choice extremist to run ‘Republicans for Betsy,’” Kotek said in her statement. That’s a reference to the endorsement Johnson received from Bridget Barton, who ran against Drazan in the Republican primary. Kotek also raised questions about Johnson’s commitment to abortion rights: “With every flip-flop, it’s becoming clearer that Oregonians simply cannot trust her.”

Johnson has switched her position on a number of matters, most recently gun control. But there is no indication she’s backing away from her support of legal abortion.

“Tina and Betsy have cast the same votes for the same bills to protect a woman’s right to choose in Oregon,” says Johnson spokeswoman Jennifer Sitton. “Pro-choice voters have the right to choose: Kotek or Johnson. But only one of them can actually bring the state together.”

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