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Regional Interests

Portland walks back Texas boycott as response to abortion ban

Mayor Ted Wheeler speaks at a press conference Aug. 30, 2020, in Portland, Ore.
Mayor Ted Wheeler speaks at a press conference Aug. 30, 2020, in Portland, Ore.

Portland City Council voted on Wednesday to set aside $200,000 to fund abortion care in Oregon in anticipation of an uptick in Texans traveling to the state to access the procedure.

Mayor Ted Wheeler garnered nationwide attention two weeks ago with his proposal to boycott Texas over recently passed legislation that dramatically curtails abortion access. But the proposal shifted shape considerably after the city nabbed national headlines. The city ditched the two most eye-catching parts of the proposal — a boycott on city business with Texas and a ban on employee travel to the Lone Star state. Instead, city officials voted to set aside $200,000 that will go to organizations “that deliver programs and services related to reproductive health care.”

The ordinance does not specify where these organizations should be located. The city is expected to pick the groups and finalize the grant money during the fall. Wheeler indicated Wednesday he would like to see the money go to the Northwest Abortion Access Fund, which helps people access abortions in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska.

The ordinance passed 4-1. Commissioner Mingus Mapps cast the lone ‘no’ vote over what he called a “symbolic pushback” by his colleagues. Mapps said, while he found the Texas law unjustifiable, he believed the ordinance was a poor use of taxpayer money and that he was “genuinely mystified” by what the council was trying to accomplish.

“I understand and sympathize with the instincts behind this. However, spending $200,000 of Portland taxpayer dollars to pay for reproductive care for people who live in Texas is bad policy,” he said. “Here’s why: that action does nothing to change or challenge Texas’ anti-abortion law.”

In an interview with OPB post-vote, Mapps said he felt the proposal exemplified not just bad policy, but bad government.

“This is not good government - the lack of thoughtfulness, the fact that we didn’t check in with interest groups before we crafted the proposal, the fact that the proposal got amended in a way that ignores the core problems,” Mapps said. “None of this is behavior that we hope to see in local government.”

Days after Texas passed legislation that banned abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, the council announced the city would be withdrawing its business over what it called an “attack on the reproductive rights, freedom, and autonomy of people across the country.” City spokesperson Heather Hafer said the city had purchased just under $35 million in goods and services from Texas over the past five years.

But the press release appeared to have come long before the policymaking. City officials scrambled the last two weeks to nail down how such a boycott would work in practice, while pro-choice advocates raised concerns that the boycott would have a trickle-down effect that would ultimately punish the people most impacted, as Willamette Week reported. The editorial board of the Oregonian/OregonLive lambasted the city for “pointless preening,” focusing resources on a problem 2,000 miles away instead of the multitude of crises the city faces.

The mayor’s office went back to the drawing board. Late Tuesday afternoon, the city released the proposal, which would set aside $200,000 in general fund money, but no boycott.

“While I still believe that our plan would have been an appropriate and strong course of action to take, over the Labor Day weekend, we heard from other service providers and groups who represent women’s rights. They disagreed with some elements,” said Wheeler Wednesday. “As a white man, I recognize the importance of listening and being guided by those who do the work and live the work on the ground.”

Advocates from the Northwest Abortion Access Fund, NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, and Planned Parenthood testified in support of the new version of the rule, saying the money would be a critical boost to abortion access in the state, which would benefit Texans who come to Oregon seeking abortions they can’t access at home.

“This is exactly how we should be showing up. We can not only help our residents who need support and care but those who come to our state with nowhere else to go,” said Jeanine Morales, Deputy Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon. “The world is looking at Portland.”

The resolution also directs the council to send a letter to the Oregon Congressional delegation urging them to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, federal legislation that would preserve people’s right to access abortion, and a letter to the Biden Administration supporting the Department of Justice’s challenge to the Texas law. Finally, the resolution directs the City Attorney’s Office to assist in challenging the law “at the most effective and strategically valuable opportunity.”

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting