January 30, 2023

Oregon Launches Abortion Hotline Offering Free Legal Advice

Demonstrators hold signs protesting the Supreme Court’s decision to rule Roe v. Wade in Portland, Oregon on Friday, June 24, 2022. The Oregon Department of Justice has launched a new abortion hotline offering free legal advice to callers. Individuals who call the hotline will receive a call back within 48 hours from an attorney offering free legal advice on the status of abortion rights in Oregon. Credit: AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer, file

Oregon is launching a new abortion hotline offering free legal advice to callers to further defend abortion access after US Supreme Court Roe v. Wade overturned last summer and removed federal protection for the process.

The state Department of Justice announced this on Monday. It is modeled on similar hotlines set up by the Attorneys General of New York and Delaware, as states where abortion remains legal have seen an increase in the number of patients traveling from areas where the procedure has been banned or restricted .

“The hotline will fill an important need in our state for callers to understand the status of our reproductive health laws, including issues related to access to abortion,” Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said in a press release. “This is especially important because we share a border with Idaho, which has a near-total abortion ban.”

Abortion remains legal at all stages of pregnancy in Oregon, which has worked with California and Washington to promote the West Coast as a safe haven for the procedure.

Citizens can call the anonymous hotline from any state for free legal advice and will receive a call from an attorney within 48 hours.

“We anticipate there might be calls from people from out of state asking what the legal landscape is in Oregon regarding abortion,” said Molly Honore, an attorney at Markowitz Herbold, a firm that helps the pro -Have a Bono hotline. “We expect there will be questions from providers and questions from care seekers.”

Honore also said she expects calls from people in Oregon seeking clarification on their rights in the state.

Since the US Supreme Court Roe v. Wade in June, near-total abortion bans have been imposed in Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia. Legal action is pending against several of these bans. The lone clinic in North Dakota has moved across state lines to Minnesota.

Idaho has three separate laws that prohibit abortion. One allows the potential family members of a fetus to sue a doctor who performs an abortion; another makes it a crime for medical professionals to perform an abortion after detecting electrical activity; and another effectively bans all abortions but allows doctors to defend themselves in court by proving the procedure was performed to save the patient’s life.

All three bans apply statewide, although a federal judge has shelved a small portion of the third law pending a court hearing. The federal judge said the state could not enforce the third law against health care providers who perform emergency medical abortions at Medicaid-funded hospitals until the lawsuit is settled.

About 70 attorneys from several local law firms will work for Oregon’s hotline, said Anna Sortun, a partner at Tonkon Torp who will serve as the number’s logistical backbone. She said her company is seeking advice from people who run the abortion hotline in New York.

“They had a lot of logistical advice on how to split calls,” she said. “The most important thing is that we get in touch with people very quickly, because sometimes they need to know an answer pretty quickly.”

Calls to the hotline are initially answered by the Oregon State Bar Attorney Referral Service. The office routes the calls or voicemails to Tonkon Torp, who then assigns them to one of the lawyers who volunteer for the hotline.

While attorneys only provide legal advice on the status of the law in Oregon, court officials said they can also provide contact information for providers and abortion funds if callers need more information about the resources available to them.

The hotline was launched the day after the nationwide rally by pro-life supporters to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the now-overturned Roe v. Wade launched.

In anticipation of a surge in out-of-state patients, the Oregon legislature last year created a $15 million fund to improve access to abortion services. This year, Democrats in the Legislature plan to introduce a bill that would protect patients and providers from lawsuits originating in states that ban or restrict abortion.

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