Oregon Voter Measure on Abortion Needs Revising

     SALEM, Ore. (CN) — Oregon’s attorney general must revise a ballot measure that would ban using public funds for abortion, the state Supreme Court ruled.
     The disputed ballot title reads “No public funds shall be used to pay for any abortion, except when medically necessary or as may be required by federal law.”
     Led by Stacy Cross, several prominent reproductive-rights activists in the state challenged the ballot as failing to clearly identify in the title that its passage would reduce access to abortion.
     Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum acknowledged that reduced access “is a direct and inevitable result of the funding restriction” for abortion, but said it would be clear to voters that “individuals who rely on public funds for abortions will have restricted access to abortions if those funds are unavailable, even if that secondary effect is not expressly described in the caption.”
     An en banc panel of the Oregon Supreme Court disagreed with Rosenblum on Thursday as to obviousness but nevertheless said the caption of the measure need not inform voters of this effect.
     “We recognize that there are instances in which the best way to describe a measure’s subject is to describe its major effect,” Judge Martha Walters wrote for the court. “When a measure includes a feature that will significantly alter the current legal structure, and that feature ‘goes to the heart’ of the measure, that feature may constitute the subject matter of a measure and not ‘merely an effect’ that may be described in the summary.
     “On the other hand, not all effects rise to that level.”
     While Rosenblum could have included a more complete explanation in the ballot, the court saw no error in her failure to do so.
     The panel did, however, order Rosenblum to flesh out the caption so that it explain that the law would prohibit direct and indirect public funds for abortion, such as funding from public employees.
     Rosenblum failed to sway the court that the 15-word limit for the caption precludes giving a definition for “public funds” on the ballot title. The caption currently has an annotated definition for “abortion” but not “public funds.”
     “The word limits… may not permit the attorney general to annotate both terms as ‘(defined),’ but they do permit the attorney general to treat the terms equally,” Walters wrote.
     “If the attorney general were to use quotation marks to indicate that the terms are used in a unique way, then the attorney general could revise the caption and describe its subject within the 15-word limit.”
     The panel ordered the ballot back to the attorney general for modification.
     The petitioners were Stacy Cross and Lisa Gardner from Oregon chapters of Planned Parenthood, Kimberly McCullough of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, Michele Stranger Hunter from NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, Kara Carmosino from the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, and Chantal Downing.

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