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Abortion jumps to center stage in race for Oregon governor

The leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade set off a political firestorm both in Washington D.C. and locally.

PORTLAND, Ore. — 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 including Barton and Pierce 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 responded with the following statement:

"The unprecedented leak of a yet to be finalized U.S. Supreme Court opinion represents a grave attack on one of the core institutions in our country. I have never shied away from my pro-life values, but will wait for the Court’s official opinion before commenting further."

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.”

Catch up on the full April 22 Democratic Debate here:

Republican debate transcript

Below is a full transcript of the portion of the Republican debate that focused on abortion, including the questions from moderators Laural Porter and David Molko:

Molko: In the last 24 hours, Politico published a draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court that indicates it plans to overturn Roe v. Wade. That of course is the landmark 1973 decision that guarantees federal constitutional protections for abortion. So today the court confirmed that draft opinion is authentic, though of course we should note that decision is not final.

Porter: Now whatever the final outcome here, Republican governors in many states have worked to pass new restrictions on abortion, including in our neighboring state, Idaho. In Oregon, the right to an abortion is protected in the state constitution. If elected, what changes, if any, would you make regarding abortion access in Oregon, and if Roe v. Wade is overturned, what will your response be as governor?

Gomez: Thank you, I’m so glad that we’re being asked this question right now. I happen to be pro-choice. I believe that that is constitutionally protected right now, and I really urge the Supreme Court to uphold that. That being said, it’s codified in Oregon state law, and so for me, you wouldn’t see changes to those pieces of Oregon law, and I think you — we need to support women’s health. It’s really an important part of — Oregon is pro-choice, I’m pro-choice and we should remain that way.

Molko: Alright, thank you Ms. Gomez. Bud Pierce, you’re up next. Same question.

Pierce: I’m pro-life, but I believe in obeying the law. If elected governor, I’m not the law, and I will obey the laws of the United States and of Oregon. My effort will be on the better support of pregnant women in their pregnancy, after the children are born, to better support child care efforts, educational efforts, so no one feels the pressure to have an abortion because they feel like it’s too much, too overwhelming to bring a child into the world. That’s my answer.

Porter: Dr. Pierce, I do want to clarify here though where you stand. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, would you agree or disagree with that decision?

Pierce: I believe that the constitution does not protect, in the constitution, a right to 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.

Porter: So you would support that decision? I did want to ask you because in 2016 when you ran for governor, you were in favor of Oregon’s existing abortion policy. Why the flip-flop?

Pierce: Well it’s not really a flip-flop. I was supported by Oregon Right to Life. I’m a man of faith, I went through some trauma with Selma’s passing, 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, and so that’s where I am.

And again, I’ll obey the law, the laws of Oregon and of the constitution of the United States, and again my effort will be on supporting women who are pregnant so that they’ll want to continue their pregnancy if they so desire, and not feel the pressure because it’s so difficult to have a child, that they’ll not want to have the child.

Porter: And you mentioned your wife Selma’s passing, and our condolences to Selma and to you as well. I’ll move on to Bridget Barton. If elected, what changes, if any, would you make regarding abortion access in Oregon? And if Roe v. Wade is overturned, what will your response be as governor?

Barton: So first of all, this was a terrible breach of security, and truly an attack on our democracy, on our form of constitutional government. This was an appalling act by whoever perpetrated it. Most likely this came from radical leftists, the same people who have driven our state into the ditch with their very fanatical progressive leftist policies and an inability to really solve our real problems.

That being said, I would agree with the decision. I am pro-life, like most people in the state of Oregon I disagree with the policies we have in place now that allow abortions up to and including the moment of birth, taxpayer-funded abortions and now millions of dollars allocated for what we’re now referring to as abortion vacations for people outside the state to come in here, use our taxpayer dollars for their abortions. Most Oregonians, I believe, don’t agree with that. They should elect a pro-life, sensible governor like myself.

Porter: Well Bridget, since it is enshrined in the state constitution, what do you think you could do as governor to make any changes?

Barton: Without legislative approval, clearly nothing. As the governor, I would need the legislature to act first, and as you know we have superminorities at this moment. We’ll see what we get coming forward with a red wave.

Molko: And just to quickly follow up there, where would you start the waiting periods, parental consent — what’s your thinking here, Bridget?

Barton: Oh, we’ve got a long ways to go to push back from where we are. I would try to get rid of those abortion-funded — I mean, taxpayer-funded vacations here to have abortions. I would pull back taxpayer funding for abortions — that would be a goal. And I would try to get back to where most Oregonians, as polls are now, which is only up to the second trimester. No third trimester or at the moment of birth abortions, and that seems to be where most Oregonians are.

Molko: Alright, thank you for that. I just want to point out, before we get to you, Mayor Pulliam, that there is no evidence at this moment of where that leak came from, only that the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice there, has directed the court to investigate the matter. So, Mayor Pulliam, question to you, same question.

Pulliam: Yeah, I sure hope Oregon Right to Life, their board, their funders or activists, are watching this debate. These answers are a complete embarrassment for anyone who’s received the Oregon Right to Life endorsement. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. 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. 

So what I say, my opinions have not changed. They have not changed from the day before this announcement was revealed to what it is today, which is I will sign any piece of pro-life legislation that comes across my desk. Any piece of pro-life legislation that we can restrict the abortions happening in this state, a state that’s essentially become a tourism state for abortion, you can have abortions from conception all the way until the after birth of that child. I would sign any restriction that we can have. 

I think Oregon Right to Life, especially on the heels of the televised debate last week, with the watered-down answer from Christine Drazan, where she said she would only veto bills that extended abortion access, as if that’s even possible. I think they should re-look at their endorsement.

Porter: Stan, you mentioned Right to Life, the anti-abortion group. Oregon Right to Life did not endorse you. What’s your response?

Pulliam: Yeah, I think it’s gross, especially now when you consider, when you look at how the other candidates are answering this question now that it’s come true. This is the moment of truth, right? Where are candidates on this issue? I have 100% completed a positive pro-life questionnaire in front of Oregon Right to Life. I have a history of activism on this issue. I certainly deserve the endorsement, and I think that they should look at it again.

Porter: They didn’t endorse you, though, because other parts of your life didn’t square with what they feel are conservative Christian values, and-

Pulliam: I apologize Laural, but I don’t see any of those things in their mission statement. Their mission statement is about protecting life, the sanctity of life, the life of the unborn, and I’m a 120% advocate for those issues.

Porter: And I did want to mention, unfortunately we are not able to ask Christine Drazan the question since she dropped out of the debate, but she has been endorsed by the anti-abortion group Oregon Right to Life.

Molko: I just wanted to follow up with Jessica, give you a chance to follow up on this question and draw you out a little bit here. So an NBC news analysis of the Center for Reproductive Rights data — that’s an abortion rights group — shows 23 states would institute bans. Trigger laws are on the books in 13 of those states. So Jessica, my question is if Roe v. Wade falls, would you support Oregon as a growing refuge where people from other states would legally obtain abortion — a growing refuge — and to what extent, if so?

Gomez: That’s a great question. I don’t think that we should be paying for other people’s health care that don’t live in our state, and I know that there were some dollars that were allocated recently for that purpose. I think we’re going to see some changes, I don’t know what they’re going to look like. This decision isn’t final yet, but in general I think that we should keep our funding for health care for Oregonians. I’d also like to mention too that if these candidates here have all stated that they’re in favor of medical freedom when it comes to masks, vaccines — and it’s really inconsistent. I’d like to point that out. I think this is about bodily autonomy, and I am supportive of medical freedom, that includes abortion, vaccines and any other procedures that are legally available.

Pierce: On the pro-life issue, those of us on the pro-life view the issue as protecting life, and it’s not a medical procedure in our mind, or in our view, so that’s where the disagreement lies. So society has to move forward and make a decision. On the pro-life side, we’re always going to push for life over death, and we don’t view an abortion as a medical procedure. That’s the disagreement, and in a civil society we’ll work though our disagreements and live together but on the pro-life side we’re always going to push hard for life.

Porter: And just for a visual, I did want to ask all of you: If Roe v. Wade is overturned, how many of you — raise your hand — how many of you would defend the right in the Oregon state constitution protecting women’s right to an abortion? Raise your hand if you would defend that current policy.

[Pierce and Gomez raise their hands]

Porter: So Bud Pierce, you also raised your hand, so you would defend the current policy even though you say you’re right-to-life?

Pierce: I’m against the policy as a law, but again, if I’m elected as governor, I have to obey the law — I’m not the law. And what I need to do is work with Right to Life and other pro-life organizations to change the hearts and minds of Oregon citizens. I think that elected officials should never become the law, or try to become the law. Or to defend the law — we need to change the law, and I’m going to push hard for that, but I am not the law if I’m elected governor of Oregon.

Pulliam: Officially the third answer from Dr. Pierce on this issue.

Barton: I thought you asked about the policy, not the law, following the law — of course all of us as governor are going to follow the law.

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