Abortion jumps to center stage in race for Oregon governor

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — The City Club of Portland held a primary debate for the top Republican candidates for Oregon governor on Tuesday, and the first question was about Monday’s news of a leaked draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v. Wade.

The question highlighted sharp distinctions between participating Republican candidates Jessica Gomez, Bud Pierce, Bridget Barton and Stan Pulliam.

Gomez said she was in favor of abortion rights and would urge the Supreme Court to uphold Roe v. Wade. She also noted that abortion access is codified in Oregon law and said she wouldn’t seek to change that, although she did say she wasn’t in favor of Oregon covering the cost for people from other states to get abortions here.

“Oregon is pro-choice, I’m pro-choice and we should remain that way,” she said.

RELATED: Supreme Court Chief Justice confirms draft abortion opinion is authentic

Pierce said he was anti-abortion and that he does not believe there is a federal constitutional right to an abortion. However, he acknowledged that Oregon law protects abortion rights and said he would uphold it and focus on providing support for pregnant women, parents and young children so that “no one feels pressure to have an abortion.”

“I believe it’s up to the states to decide, and Oregon has strong laws that currently protect their rights. So I will obey the law,” he said.

When asked about his support for Oregon’s existing abortion laws during his previous campaign for governor in 2016, Pierce said that following the death of his wife in 2020, he “re-looked at my faith and the strength of my faith and I came to the conclusion that I’m, in my heart and soul, pro-life.”

Barton said she was anti-abortion and that she would work to change Oregon’s laws, including restricting abortion access to only be allowed up to the second trimester of pregnancy. She said that she would push back on people coming from outside the state for abortions, adding that “as the governor, I would need the legislature to act first” and noted that Republicans are currently the minority party in both chambers. She also condemned the leak of the draft Court opinion.

“We’ve got a long ways to go to push back from where we are,” she said.

RELATED: Inslee, elected leaders attend abortion-rights rally in Seattle

Pulliam declared that he would sign “any piece of pro-life legislation that comes across my desk,” and he urged the advocacy group Oregon Right to Life to reevaluate its endorsements, referencing the fact that the group endorsed several other Oregon Republican candidates but declined to endorse him, as reported by Willamette Week.

“This is the moment we’ve been waiting for,” he said. “This is what all the work, the hard work and the donations and the activism has been all about: the overturning of Roe v. Wade.”

KGW reached out to pose the same question to Republican candidate Christine Drazan, who was scheduled to participate in the debate but pulled out on Tuesday morning. Her campaign has not yet responded.

Drazan’s campaign website touts an endorsement from Oregon Right to Life. In a separate Republican debate hosted by KOIN and Pamplin Media Group last week, before the draft Supreme Court opinion leaked, Drazan said she would veto any legislation to expand abortion access in Oregon.

Watch the full Republican debate:

Democratic and unaffiliated candidates

Abortion didn’t come up during a Democratic primary debate between Tina Kotek and Tobias Read that the City Club hosted on April 22, but KGW reached out to the participating candidates on Tuesday to pose the same question from the Republican debate.

Read responded with the following statement:

“As Governor, I will ensure that amidst a wave of concerning threats and rollbacks, we will stand up to any attack on abortion access here in Oregon. We must continue to be a national leader in protecting reproductive rights.

“If Roe v. Wade is overturned I will do everything in my power as Governor to ensure that access to abortion continues to be protected in Oregon as well as provide access to those in neighboring states who may lose their right.”

RELATED: Yes, Congress could pass a federal law that supersedes a Supreme Court ruling

Kotek responded with the following statement:

“Here’s what I want every Oregonian to know: I will steadfastly protect access to abortion and other reproductive health care in Oregon. I’ve done it and will continue to do it. I am outraged by the draft SCOTUS opinion. When Donald Trump was elected in 2016, I worked to pass the nation’s strongest abortion access law, ensuring that reproductive rights would be protected here in Oregon, no matter what happens at the Supreme Court. 

“We knew this was coming, we’ve known it for years. I’m the only candidate running for Governor who is endorsed by Planned Parenthood PAC of Oregon, Pro-Choice Oregon and The Mother PAC. And, as your Governor, I will continue to fight to defend reproductive rights in our state. That’s a promise.”

KGW also reached out to unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson, who did not appear in either debate and will not be on the primary ballot this month, but will appear on the general election ballot in November. Her campaign referred to a statement that Johnson tweeted out on Tuesday morning:

“This is a bedrock issue for me, and frankly, for Oregon. A woman’s reproductive freedom is a fundamental right. As governor, I will defend and protect a woman’s right to choose and Oregon will remain a pro-choice state.”

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