Parental notification is at the heart of the legislative stalemate in Oregon

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When Rob Nosse’s teenage daughter told him she was pregnant, it was the second time in his life he had the feeling he was floating outside his body, watching the scene unfold below him. (The first time was an incorrect cancer diagnosis.)

“I am getting lightheaded just remembering this,” said Nosse, a state lawmaker from Portland.

The Democrat was a key champion of House Bill 2002, the measure at the heart of the latest, and longest, legislative walkout in state history. Nosse was shocked by his daughter’s news. And he was happy she came to him. But he believes strongly children should not have to tell their parents in order to have an abortion, no matter their age.

Nosse’s Democratic colleagues, including the governor, agree. Many Republicans, however, would rather risk ending their political careers than allow minors under the age of 15 to be able to get an abortion without parental notification.

For weeks, this has been a major sticking point in the Senate impasse; neither side seemed willing to budge. But on Thursday, for the first time in more than a month, key lawmakers struck a more optimistic tone.

Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, the Republican leader confirmed his party is feeling hopeful Democrats are reconsidering elements of House Bill 2002, including the part clarifying anyone of any age can have an abortion in Oregon without notifying a parent. Key Democrats confirmed conversations were underway, but did not offer many details.

Hundreds of bills are set to perish if the Republican walkout continues; measures to create more affordable housing, to help at-risk students, bills aimed at combating climate change and measures addressing the public-defender crisis.

House Bill 2002 does a lot. It would protect medical providers from prosecution if they provide an abortion or gender-affirming care to those from other states. It would expand insurance coverage to include laser hair removal and facial feminization surgery. And it makes it explicit that minors under the age of 15 can don’t need a parent’s permission for an abortion.

Teaonna Fuller of Lincoln City shows her support for  HB 2002 at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem on March 20, 2023. The bill would require health care plans in Oregon to include reproductive and gender-affirming care.

Teaonna Fuller of Lincoln City shows her support for HB 2002 at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem on March 20, 2023. The bill would require health care plans in Oregon to include reproductive and gender-affirming care.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Sen. Daniel Bohnam, of The Dalles, told Sen. President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, early in the session when House Bill 2002 hit the Senate and the parental notification piece wasn’t changed, he would “leave the state” and take ten friends with him.

“I told him I am the face of the opposition,” Bonham said, adding he believes the measure is “an assault on parent’s rights.”

Very few minors, regardless of age, get abortions. Nationally, those under 17 who get an abortion make up about 2.5% of all abortions, according to Lauren Ralph, an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco.

Data from Oregon suggests in 2021 there were 14 such cases of minors under the age of 15 seeking an abortion. It’s unclear how many of these minors had a parent with them. About 90% of minors under the age of 15 nationally have a parent with them when getting an abortion, according to Ralph. The percentage dips to about 60% if the minor is an older teenager.

“Let’s remember what’s happening in this situation for these young children who are pregnant,” Gov. Tina Kotek said. “They have been abused, they have been raped, most often by a family member. These are very tragic situations. I’m not willing to say to a child, you can’t access health care because you’re not going to get parental consent.”

There is an alternative route used in other states, known as judicial bypass. A minor appears before a judge and the judge determines whether the kid can have an abortion. Ralph, with UCSF, said research has shown minors who appear before a judge often do so because they are worried their parents will force them to continue an unwanted pregnancy or cut them off financially. She said it’s also shown to be a traumatic experience where young women are often grilled by judges on their sexual history, use of birth control and other private questions.

Sen. Kate Lieber, the Senate Majority Leader, said Democrats ruled out judicial bypass as an option.

“Judicial bypass is not a good or easy way for these kinds of decisions to be made,” she said. “There is all kinds of literature that will tell you that judicial bypass will hurt kids … We made a decision as the Democratic party, the majority party of how this bill would be crafted.”

Democrats believe voters made it clear they want abortion access protected in Oregon after the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the federal right to have an abortion.

Bonham, the Republican from The Dalles, believes Democrats are going too far.

“I don’t know why this absolute assault on parent’s rights is part of their (Democrats) agenda, but it’s nothing I want to be part of,” Bonham said. “We recognize Democrats won elections, but some of these things, like this assault on parental rights, they never campaigned on this stuff.”

Protesters voice their opposition to for HB 2002 at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, March 20,. 2023. The bill would require health care plans in Oregon to include reproductive and gender affirming care.

Protesters voice their opposition to for HB 2002 at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, March 20,. 2023. The bill would require health care plans in Oregon to include reproductive and gender affirming care.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Cassie Purdy, political director for Planned Parenthood Advocates for Oregon, who helped craft HB 2002, said she believes the measure is written in a way to protect kids. Some have suggested advocates, such as Planned Parenthood, who have been incredibly helpful in electing Democrats have threatened to pull support from any lawmakers who move to amend the bill.

“I can tell you why that part of the bill is so important and why we felt it was so necessary to include now,” Purdy said. “Whether it’s important enough to lose everything (all other bills) is ultimately up to those in leadership. But I can tell you why advocates feel really strongly.”

The measure allows medical providers to notify parents if “the life, health or safety of the individual is at risk,” Purdy said.

“It gives them the ability to notify parents if they feel like it’s absolutely necessary, but what it also does is gives a young person the care they need even in a situation where they have unsafe parents,” she said.

Republicans have said they discussed the idea of sending the measure to the ballot and allowing Oregon voters to have a say. So far, that has seemingly been a nonstarter with Democrats.

“This bill which essentially removes parental rights is a foundational issue for us because we believe parents are the best advocates for the children they care for and love,” Knopp said. “If the advocates care so much about getting this passed, they can collect signatures and do an initiative.”

Nosse, the Portland Democratic lawmaker, has an almost 5-year-old grandson now. His daughter “is an excellent mom,” he said.

Before he publicly shared his daughter’s story last week, he asked her permission.

She agreed and she told him something else: she got pregnant again shortly after her first child.

But she had an abortion. She never told Nosse about it.

And, he said, that was her choice.

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