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By Janie Har September 24, 2013

Does the Oregon Health Plan pay for about 4,000 abortions a year?

A group called Oregon 2014 is trying to collect enough signatures to put a measure on the ballot that would prohibit taxpayer spending on abortions. The group tried to do the same in 2012 but failed to collect enough signatures.

In any case, on its website is this statistic: "In 2012 there were 9,015 abortions in Oregon. In fiscal year 2011-2012, 4,191 abortions were paid for by taxpayers via the Oregon Health Plan."  

The suggestion came to us via a reader, who had heard a signature gatherer cite the statistic. Was it true? We contacted Oregon 2014 right away, where a co-chief petitioner said the statistic was solid and that he welcomed a fact check.

"I’ve been called a liar to my face," said Jeff Jimerson, "and I try to direct them to the information."

The information comes from the Oregon Health Authority. The number of abortions paid by the state has fluctuated from 4,105 in 2002-03 to 3,424 in 2008-09 to 4,191 in 2011-12. This is the most up-to-date information available, said Karynn Fish, an OHA spokeswoman.

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But isn’t there a restriction on using public money to finance abortions?

There is. The Hyde Amendment, first approved by Congress in 1976, prohibits the use of public money to pay for abortions, except in case of rape or incest or to save the mother’s life, for the most part. This affects low-income women who receive health care through federal Medicaid.

In response to the Hyde Amendment, Oregon’s Department of Human Resources then issued a rule limiting reimbursement for abortions. People sued. The appellate court voted the rule unconstitutional, in that it violated the equal privileges and immunities clause of the Constitution. In 1984, the Oregon Supreme Court took a different approach, ruling that Human Resources had overstepped its rule-making authority, which was to pay for medical services for needy people.

In Oregon, the Health Plan uses a mix of federal and state monies to provide health care for low-income residents. Oregon is among a minority of states that allow using state taxpayer money for elective abortions. Petitioners hope to change that by adding these words to the Constitution:

"No public funds shall be used to pay for any abortion, except when medically necessary or as may be required by federal law."

We may see this measure on the 2014 ballot; we may not. But it is accurate to say that state taxpayer money paid for about 4,000 abortions in the most recent year available. We rate this statement True.

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Does the Oregon Health Plan pay for about 4,000 abortions a year?

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