Post Mischaracterizes GOP Opposition to Oregon Bill on Reproductive Health Care for Minors

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Quick Take

An Oregon bill that would eliminate parental consent for minors to access reproductive health care, including abortion, has been criticized by conservatives. But a liberal social media post mischaracterizes their opposition by claiming Republicans said girls “should be allowed to be forced to give birth to their rapist’s baby if the rapist is their father.”


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Oregon Democrats have proposed legislation aimed at removing barriers to abortion and gender-affirming care, while Republican lawmakers have pushed back against the measure, saying it goes too far.

Social media posts from each side have focused on the bill’s proposed change to abortion access laws — in particular, parental consent requirements for some minors.

Current state law is a little unclear about the rules for parental consent for those under 15, but experts generally agree that those older than 15 can seek an abortion without consent from their parents and those younger than 15 cannot.

The law says that a medical provider can give “birth control information and services to any person without regard to the age of the person” and then, in the next paragraph, specifies that only those 15 and older can decide on medical treatment without the consent of a parent.

“Current law is that if someone is under 15, she’ll need to get consent from a parent to get an abortion in Oregon. If she’s 16 or 17, she doesn’t need parental consent to get an abortion in Oregon,” Anna Sortun, an Oregon lawyer who is contributing to a reproductive rights hotline run by the state’s attorney general, said in an email to FactCheck.org.

Similarly, the state Supreme Court wrote in a non-binding 2006 opinion that the current law “authorizes a minor female 15 years of age or older to consent to the performance of an abortion by a physician without the consent of the minor’s parent or guardian. A parent or guardian still must consent to the performance of an abortion for a minor female 14 years of age or younger.”

The proposed change — which has passed the Democrat-led House and is now awaiting a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate — would definitively establish that people of any age could seek out reproductive health care, including abortion, without parental consent.

Under this bill, “a minor of any age can make that determination,” Lori Anne Sills, of the nonpartisan legislative counsel’s office, explained at an April 13 meeting of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, which is made up of members from both chambers.

At that meeting, Republican state Sen. Tim Knopp asked Sills, “a 10-year-old could make that decision on their own, then?”

“Yes,” Sills said. “Let me clarify… under the House Bill 2002, a minor of any age can make reproductive health care decisions and that includes undergoing an abortion.”

“Alright, well, that’s just shocking,” Knopp said.

Knopp, the Senate Republican leader, released a joint statement with the Republican leader of the House later that day highlighting that point, saying, “10-year-olds would be able to get abortions without parental knowledge under the legislation.”

The official Twitter account for the Oregon House Republicans then emphasized that part of the bill on May 1, calling the measure “too extreme.”

But a popular liberal Twitter account run by Brian Tyler Cohen later misleadingly claimed on May 2: “Oregon Republicans are arguing that 10-year-old girls should be allowed to be forced to give birth to their rapist’s baby if the rapist is their father.”

But none of the Republicans had suggested that a 10-year-old should be forced to give birth. Rather, they argued that parents should be involved in medical decision-making for minors.

For example, the conservative-leaning organization Oregon Right to Life, which opposes the bill, submitted written testimony that said, in part, “Although we can agree that not every parent is a good parent (such as in cases of abuse), we recognize that parental involvement is wise in every other major decision in a child’s life. Removing parental involvement prior to making a life-changing decision significantly changes how minors consent to abortions. Parents should be empowered to help and support their children during a vulnerable and confusing time, not removed from the equation.”

Addressing Parental Permission

During the April 13 committee meeting, Democratic state Sen. Elizabeth Steiner — who is a doctor and a sponsor of the bill — responded to criticism that the change would cut out parents from major health decisions.

“While I firmly believe that every person in this room would have compassion on their 14-year-old child and want to engage with them on this conversation in a loving and caring way,” she said, “I can tell you from deep personal experience that, unfortunately, not every parent is like that.”

In most cases, though, a physician would encourage parental involvement, Steiner said.

“There is no desire to separate children from their parents in this,” she said.

The Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force — which is a statewide non-profit that works to prevent and respond to sexual violence and is not part of the Department of Justice, as is suggested by the name — favors the legislation.

“If we want survivors of abuse and violence to have access to meaningful support services, we need to support reproductive health care,” the organization’s interim executive director, Bethany Walmsley, wrote in testimony submitted in support of the bill. “If we want to prevent abuse and violence from happening in the first place, we need to ensure people have access to health services without barriers.”

It’s rare for those under 15 to seek abortion, regardless of whether or not they are required to have parental permission.

In 2021, there were 14 abortions performed on patients younger than 15 in the state, according to the Oregon Health Authority. In the year before, there were 20 abortions.

That accounts for 0.3% of the state’s abortions in 2021, which is on par with the rates for that age group in other states regardless of parental consent laws, according to national data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parental consent laws vary by state, with some requiring consent from one parent, a grandparent or other adult relative. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 36 states require parental consent and/or notification or the involvement of a family member, although a minor can obtain court approval for an abortion in all but one of those states.

We don’t know how many 10-year-olds would likely be affected since there is no data available for that age group and the bill’s primary sponsors didn’t answer our email seeking clarification. But few would likely be affected given the relatively low number of abortions and the similarly low number of births among those under 15. (There were 11 births in that age group in Oregon in 2021 and 10 in 2020.)

Hannah Kurowski, spokeswoman for the Oregon House Majority Office, which is Democratic, told us, “No minor in Oregon is ever alone in making these decisions.”

“Medical providers, who are trained to screen for abuse and protect the health and wellbeing of their patients, will always work with minor patients to ensure they have a network of safe adults to support them, especially when they are making significant medical decisions,” she said. “This bill does not change that.” (Emphasis is Kurowski’s.)

So, the focus among Republicans on the effect of the bill for that young age exaggerates its impact.

But the response from the liberal Twitter account mischaracterizes the point Republican opponents were making.


Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.

Sources

Oregon Legislative Information. HB 2002 B. Accessed 8 May 2023.

Oregon Revised Statutes. ORS 109.640. Accessed 9 May 2023.

Sortun, Anna. Partner, Tonkon Torp. Email to FactCheck.org. 12 May 2023.

Oregon State Legislature. Joint Committee On Ways and Means. 13 Apr 2023.

Knopp, Tim and Vikki Breese-Iverson. Press release. “Oregon Democrats Pass Most Extreme Abortion and Gender-Altering Bill in Nation’s History Out of Committee.” 13 Apr 2023.

Anderson, Lois. Oregon Right to Life. Public testimony. 20 Mar 2023.

Oregon Health Authority. Induced Termination of Pregnancy in Oregon, 2015-2021. Accessed 8 May 2023.

Kortsmit, Katherine, et al. Abortion Surveillance — United States, 2020. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 25 Nov 2022.

Oregon Health Authority. Oregon Annual Trends in Birth & Pregnancy 2010-2021. Accessed 9 May 2023.

Kurowski, Hannah. Spokeswoman, Oregon House Majority Office. Email to FactCheck.org. 10 May 2023.

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