Huckabee meets with staff from The Pregnancy Center at Bethel Church Monday. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]

Huckabee stumps for initiative in Medford

Abortion foes got a little star power behind their cause when former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee made a swing through Oregon to back a ballot initiative that seeks to block most public funding of abortions.

"Oregon seems to have gone a bridge too far," Huckabee said by phone Monday before a "Speak Life! '18" rally this evening at Bethel Church. The ordained Baptist minister, who ran for president in the 2008 and 2016 Republican primaries, made similar stops Sunday in Portland and Salem.

Huckabee appeared in Medford on the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. The court ruled that states cannot put a fetus' interests ahead of the pregnant woman's until the fetus is "viable," or able to live on its own outside the womb.

Ballot initiative Petition 1 comes after the Oregon Legislature last year approved House Bill 3391B, which requires insurance companies to provide reproductive care, including abortions, without costing patients a copay or deductible.

The petition's backers say they have gathered 92,000 signatures of the 117,578 necessary to qualify it for the November ballot.

Huckabee noted Oregon has no restrictions on abortions and said, "Fifteen minutes before the baby comes out of the birth canal, an abortion is still legal."

Federal law has banned partial-birth abortions since 2003 except when the mother's life is in danger. Only about 1 percent of abortions performed in the United States are done at 21 weeks or later, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research and policy organization.

Huckabee said some people are choosing abortions if they don't want a particular gender or for some other reason than the health of the baby.

"I find that appalling," he said.

Huckabee said his home state passed a constitutional amendment in 1988 to protect a human life from conception to death, but he acknowledged Oregon is more liberal.

State Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, said that in 2017, Oregon spent $1.79 million in public dollars on abortion, a small fraction of the state's $9.3 billion Medicaid budget.

"Oregon is at the forefront in the country as far as affordable abortion," she said. "When there is a need for an abortion, we think that there is a constitutional protection for that."

Marsh said the state will continue to push for other birth-control options that prevent pregnancy in the first place.

"Limiting our options is a big mistake," she said.

One of the consequences of an unwanted pregnancy is that it forces many women into poverty, Marsh said. "Children born from these pregnancies often end up having a low birth weight, death before the age of 1 and suffer from abuse," she said.

The Reproductive Health Equity Act, which came out of House Bill 3391B, also provides funding for abortions for women who aren't citizens and don't qualify for coverage through the Oregon Health Plan or private insurance, she said.

The bill protects reproductive health despite any possible federal action to undermine the Affordable Care Act, Marsh said.

Jeff Jimerson, director of Oregon Life United, which sponsored Huckabee's appearances, said he's talked to Oregonians who are pro-choice but can't support public funding for abortions.

"A majority of Oregonians don't want tax dollars to pay for abortions," he said.

Jimerson said arguments that women should have an abortion so that their child isn't born into poverty are "ridiculous."

He said this is the fourth attempt to get a similar law in place to block public funding of abortions.

In both 2012 and 2014, the initiatives failed to gather enough signatures. In 2016, the ballot title was contested.

"Our initiative won't stop someone from having an abortion," Jimerson said. "It will give them time to stop and think about it."

Laurel Swerdlow, interim executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, said in an email that Huckabee's views are out of touch with Oregon values.

She said people with Huckabee's brand of extremism would be better served by showing a commitment to preventing unintended pregnancies and working with Planned Parenthood to increase access to birth control and comprehensive sex education. Huckabee and initiative supporters suggest women seek counseling at The Pregnancy Center in Medford.

"Limitations on abortion can have profoundly harmful effects on public health, particularly for those who already face significant barriers to receiving high-quality care, such as low-income women, immigrant women, young women, women of color and LGBTQ people," Swerdlow said.

She said women should make their own personal decisions about their bodies without political interference.

More than 90 percent of Planned Parenthood's budget goes toward preventive care, including cancer screenings, birth control, and STD testing and treatment. Of the three clinics in Southern Oregon, only Ashland performs abortions. The other two clinics are in Medford and Grants Pass.

Susan Huntley, one of the organizers of Monday's rally, said she was strongly opposed to the direction the Legislature took in opening the doors to more abortions.

"I'm seeing this as a travesty," said Huntley.

When she was 16 and a "surfer girl" in San Diego, Huntley received an abortion and now regrets that decision.

She said she had no idea at the time that a baby's heart starts to beat almost right away. Huntley said she was so scared that she couldn't even talk about it with her family.

"I was really depressed afterwards," the 62-year-old said. "Later when I told my dad, he said, 'I would have helped raise your baby.'"

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or Follow him on

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