Legislative Revenue Office 2016 Public Finance Basic Facts

The property tax in Oregon is a local tax. It funds most local services and many functions of county and city governments. Large portions of school districts’ and community college budgets also depend on property tax receipts. Taxable property includes real property, mobile homes, some tangible personal property used by business and in the cases of centrally assessed property, intangible property. Prior to the passage of the property tax limitations of Measure 50, property tax was generally based on a property’s real market value. Since 1997-98, each property has a real market as well as an assessed value. Property value assessment and taxation is conducted at the county level, except for large industrial properties and “centrally” assessed utilities, where Oregon Department of Revenue plays a major role.
Property tax rates differ across the state. The rate on any particular property depends on the tax rates approved by local voters and the limits established in the Oregon Constitution. Most properties are taxed by multiple districts, such as city, county, school, community college, port and fire districts. The total tax rate on a particular property is calculated by adding all the local taxing districts’ rates in the area. The tax on each property is computed by multiplying the total tax rate by the assessed value of the property and then (if needed) reducing the calculated tax in response to constitutional limits. Annually, the county assessor verifies the tax rates and levies submitted by each local taxing district. Collection of taxes and distribution of the funds to local districts are done by the county tax collector.
In 2014-15, the total Real Market Value (RMV) of taxable property in Oregon was $469.5 billion, an increase of 8.3% from 2013-14. The total Net Assessed Value of $343.2 billion reflects a 4.3% increase over 2013-14. Excluding $220 million in taxes imposed for Urban Renewal, taxing districts imposed $5.541 billion in 2014-15. This reflects an overall 5.1% growth rate from the prior year.

Not all properties are taxable. Major exemptions include intangible property (stocks, bonds), tangible personal property of individuals (household furnishings, sporting equipment), licensed property (cars, trucks), business inventories, government property (unless leased to a taxable business or individual), and property used for religious or charitable purposes. Electric cooperatives, rural telephone exchanges and some other property are exempt from property taxation because other taxes are paid in lieu of property tax.
Some properties are taxed at lower values. These “specially assessed” properties include some forest land, farm land, and open space land. These properties are taxed at their values in the restricted use and are subject to penalties if not continued in the use for which they are specially assessed.

Measure 5
Measure 5 is a tax limitation constitutional amendment approved by Oregon voters in 1990. It restricted taxes on any parcel of property per $1,000 of real market value: the education category is limited to $5 and general government to $10. Tax “compression” occurs if the tax extended on a property exceeds either of the Measure 5 limits. That is, if taxes for an individual property exceed the limits, then the taxes for that property are reduced to the limits. Local option levies are the first levy type to be reduced. General obligation bonds are not restricted by Measure 5 limits.

Measure 50
In May 1997 voters passed a second constitutional amendment to limit property tax. Measure 50 did not replace Measure 5, but rather established a second level of restrictions. Measure 50 gave each district a permanent tax rate which cannot be increased without a constitutional amendment. However, voters can approve local option levies for up to five years for operations, and up to the lesser of ten years or the useful life of capital projects. Local option levies, as well as general obligation bonds, must be approved by a majority vote at a general election. Prior to November 2007, a double majority (i.e., a majority of at least 50% of eligible voters) was needed to approve either a local option tax or a general obligation bond proposal.
Measure 50 also defined the concept of Assessed Value (AV). The 1997-98 Maximum Assessed Value (MAV) for each property was set at 90% of its 1995-96 real market value (RMV). If no new construction occurs on the property, then the growth in maximum assessed value is capped at 3% a year. However, assessed value cannot exceed real market value. The ratio of MAV to RMV is known as the Changed Property Ratio (CPR). Across all taxing districts, the ratio of AV:RMV was at its lowest in 2008-09 at 55.6%. In part due the recession’s impact on residential and business property values, the statewide ratio levelled off at about 78% in 2012-13 and 2013-14 and reached about 75.5% in 2014-15. Prior to the great recession, changes reflected high appreciation in real market values of property that occurred in many areas of Oregon relative to the 3% constitutionally capped growth rate in MAV.
The table on the following page breaks down 2014-15 property taxes by type of taxing district and tax source. Generally the largest portion of property tax revenues come from a district’s  permanent rate. Taxes from this source totaled $4.408 billion in 2014-15, accounting for 76.5% of all taxes imposed. The 2014-15 tax revenue attributable to the permanent rate registered an annual growth rate of 5.2%. Community College districts, K-12 districts and Education Service districts increased their revenues from all sources over the prior year by 4.1%, 5.2%, and 4.9%, respectively. County taxing districts, City districts and Special Districts grew total revenues over the prior year by 4.4%, 5.3% and 5.9%, respectively.
General obligation bond revenue in 2014-15 totaled $779.7 million or 13.5% of all taxes listed in the table. Across all taxing districts these revenues increased .8% in 2014-15 relative to 2013-14, with 66.8% of the total accounted for by K-12 taxing districts. Historically these funds have been an important source of revenue for the K-12 taxing districts. Since 1999-00, the average growth in K-12 bond revenue has been 5.4%. In 2014-15, K-12 bond revenue increased 2.4% from the previous year. Since the timing of bond maturities affects the level of bond revenues in any one year, one or more years of data is needed to determine a significant trend.
Bond revenues for community colleges increased by 2.0% over the prior year. Bond revenues for cities increased 2.1% from a year ago. In 2014-15, county taxing district’s bonds decreased 26.3%1  and special district’s bond revenues decreased 0.1% from 2013-14.

Across all other taxing districts in 2014-15, local option tax revenues increased 14.3% over the prior year, totaling $352.7 million. Cities and county taxing districts accounted for 43.8% of local option tax revenue in 2014-15. The share of local option revenues generated for K-12 education was 38.0% in 2014-15. Special taxing districts accounted for 18.1% of local option taxes in 2014- 15.
Passed in 1990, Measure 5 introduced limits on taxes paid by individual properties. When a property’s  taxes  are reduced  due to the limits,  the  reduction  is referred to as   “compression”.
Compression occurs when a property’s tax rate must be lowered so that the tax imposed on the assessed value of a single property does not exceed $10/$1,000 of the property’s real market value for non-school  taxing districts and $5/$1,000 for school taxing districts. The maximum assessed value of a property is allowed to increase 3% each year, but it may not exceed a property’s real market value. Therefore, in cases where  the real market value of a property grows  by less than  3% annually  or its real market value has declined, that property’s tax rate may have to be reduced (i.e., compressed) in order to satisfy the $5/$1,000 or $10/$1,000 requirements.

Districts are not in compression per se, rather properties located within taxing districts may be in compression. Permanent and local option levies are subject to the Measure 5 rate limits, bond levies are not.
There are two primary components that cause compression.

Foremost are tax rates. If applied tax rates are below the $5 and $10 limit thresholds then no compression will exist. Rate limitations are calculated against a property’s real market value (RMV), however, tax rates are applied to a property’s assessed value (AV).

Because of this, a property’s ratio of RMV:AV can impact whether the property is “in compression”. A widening RMV:AV ratio will decrease the overall level of compression whereas a contracting ratio will increase compression reduction. Illustrated by comparing 2006-07 with 2014-15 where compression reduction as a percent of tax extended was 1.4% as compared to 3.6% in 2014-15. This corresponded with statewide average residential CPRs of .579 and .768 respectively.
In 2014-15, many taxing districts were affected to some degree by ‘compression’ which is the difference between ‘extended’ taxes and a lesser amount that can actually be imposed on an individual property because of Oregon’s Constitutional limitations.

Appreciation of property values during Oregon’s housing market boom in the late 2000s helped lower compression reductions statewide and the subsequent recession increased them again. Compression reduction ranged from $48.8 – $53.0 million between 2005-06 and 2008-09 increasing to $188.7 million in 2014-15. Regional disparities persist with respect to the importance of compression, as measured by the dollar value of the compression reduction relative to the amount of tax imposed. In 2014-15 compression reduction statewide totaled 3.6% of taxes extended, 54.8% (totaling $103.3 million) of total loss occurred in Multnomah County. (Tax extended relating to bond levies is not included as bonds are not subject to measure 5 compression limits.)

In other counties, the dollar value of compression reduction was lower, but in relative terms, reduction in some counties was similarly significant. For example, in Morrow County, the compression reduction totaled $2.7 million but it accounted for 10.0% of this county’s property tax extended.
The fiscal significance of compression reduction also varies across taxing districts. For example, a number of counties had their Measure 50 permanent rates established at a time when the counties were receiving significant funding from federal forest timber payments. These federal forest payments have declined since the permanent rates were established and more recently have been under constant threat of being significantly reduced or eliminated. Compression may  be a significant issue for the recipients of federal forest payments because it may restrict these districts’ ability to offset some portion of the lost federal revenue by raising their revenues from a voter approved local option property tax.


General property tax relief began with the Property Tax Relief Act of 1929. This act imposed a personal income tax and dedicated the revenues to offset the State’s property tax levy. As a result, the State has not levied a property tax since 1940.

Senior Citizens Property Tax Deferral Program

The senior deferral program was enacted in 1963. Homeowners age 62 and older may defer payment of property taxes until the owner dies or sells the property. The State pays the tax and obtains a lien on the property for the tax and accrued interest at the rate of 6% per year. At the time of enactment, the owner’s household income was required to be under $24,500 in the year prior to applying. Once in the program, a taxpayer could defer only in years when federal adjusted gross income was less than $29,000. In 1977, the Legislature expanded the program to include special assessments. Special assessment deferment was discontinued in 2011 (HB 2543).

The 1999 Legislature opened the deferral program to the disabled community and increased the initial income threshold to $27,500 in the year prior to applying and raised household income once in the program to $32,000. The 2001 Legislature raised the initial household income to match the “once in the program limit” of $32,000. These income limits are indexed to the U.S. Urban CPI. The current household income limit is $43,000 for the 2016-17 tax year.

Participation in the senior deferral program grew rapidly from the late seventies into the mid-eighties, going from 1,976 paid property tax accounts in fiscal year 1978-79 to 12,228 in 1985-86. Participation peaked in fiscal year 1989-90 at 13,165 paid senior deferral accounts. Participation then steadily declined until 2001-02 when the first group of disabled participants began receiving deferral. Participation then held relatively steady until 2008-09 when overall participation began to increase.

Nominal tax paid on behalf of deferral participants followed a relatively similar pattern. A high of $20.2 million in tax paid was reached in 1989-90 followed by a period of steady decline. In 2001-02 when disabled participants were added to the program, tax paid began to increase modestly until 2009-10 when rapid growth occurred.

Repayment of deferred balances followed a different trend. From 1978-79 to 1993-94, repayments increased rapidly before maintaining a steady annual amount ranging between $18 and $22 million per fiscal year. This dynamic required continuous appropriations to the deferral revolving account through the 1994-95 fiscal years. From 1995-96 through 2007-08, as repayments continued to outpace tax payments, the deferral account was able to appropriate out over $90 million, including payments of just over $14.5 million to Oregon Project Independence (discussed in more detail later).

Beginning in fiscal year 2007-08 a combination of factors began to occur that would reverse the cash flow of the deferral account. Annual repayments dropped below $18 million for the first time in over fifteen years while tax payments began to grow at an increasing pace. Fiscal year 2008-09 was the first fiscal year in which tax payments exceeded repayments since the 1991-92 fiscal year. Due to cash flow issues, Department of Revenue was forced to pay only two thirds of property tax account balances in November of 2010 with the remaining third being paid in May of 2011. In response to the cash flow issues, multiple changes were made to the deferral programs.

Changes are described below.

2009 – HB 3199

       Removed continuing appropriation from state General Fund to deferral revolving account in times of insufficient funds to make deferral payments

       Established authority of State Treasurer to lend moneys to the Department of Revenue in amounts needed to make deferral payments. Required repayment of funds to Treasury within five years with interest.

2011 – HB 2543

       Limited net worth (excluding value of home) for new and existing participants to $500,000

       Adjusted continuing qualification income criteria to household income rather than adjusted gross income

       Instituted home occupancy requirement of owning and living in home for at least five years prior to applying for program

       Required proof of homeowner’s insurance

       Limited qualifying properties to those at a certain percentage of the county median real market value of residential properties. Limit is dependent in part on number of years a participant (or applicant) has owned and lived in the home.

       Changed interest rate from six percent simple to six percent compound for deferred amounts on or after November 2011

       Required participant re-certification every two years

       Properties with reverse mortgages no longer allowed to participate

       Eliminated five year extension for heirs to repay deferred taxes

       New special assessment deferrals no longer accepted

       Eliminated transfer of excess funds to Oregon Project Independence. 2012 – HB 4039

       Allowed participants removed from program solely due to reverse mortgage disqualification stemming from HB 2543 (2011) changes to receive deferral in 2011 and 2012

       Changed recertification requirement to “not less than once every three years” allowing for a staggered recertification process

       Refined definition of county median RMV. 2013 – HB 2510, HB 2489

       HB 2510 allowed reverse mortgage participants brought back into deferral program by HB 4039 (2012) to remain in program in perpetuity so long as they meet all other qualification criteria

       HB 2489 created ability for participants that participated in program in 2011 and no longer qualify due to reverse mortgage or five year property requirements to reapply for deferral in the program beginning in 2014. Limited re-approval of participants to first 700 to reapply.

2014 – HB 4148

       Changed interest rate back to 6% simple rather than 6% compound. Applies interest retroactively for program participants that pay balances on or after July 1, 2016.

2015 – HB 2083

       Created exception to five-year ownership requirement for certain homesteads

       Required homesteads to be insured for fire and other casualty while allowing DOR to purchase insurance for uninsured homesteads

       Increased county median RMV qualification limits for taxpayers that have continuously owned and lived in homestead at least 21 years

       Required DOR to increase outreach to senior community if recertification is not received within 35 days following notification to homeowner.

Following the changes to the program in HB 2543 (2011), paid tax accounts in 2011-12 fell to about half the number in the previous year and overall taxes paid were about 62% of the previous year’s. Subsequent changes have allowed some of the previously eliminated participants to requalify for the program contributing to the moderate growth in the number and total tax paid. In 2015-16, 6,449 senior and disabled accounts were paid.

Operation Project Independence

In 2005, the Legislature created Oregon Project Independence (OPI) and funded it from excess balances  that  accumulate  in  the Senior Deferral Account. Excess balances accumulate  if the property tax plus interest repayments are greater than the amount that the State of Oregon pays counties on behalf of the qualified seniors and disabled who are in the Senior and Disabled Deferral Program. The first payment sent in 2006 from the Deferral Account was in the amount of $250,000. No payment was made in 2007. The January 2008 payment was in the amount of $14.29 million. Funding challenges related to the Senior and Disabled Deferral Program in recent years have resulted in a loss of funding to OPI. To stabilize the program’s funds, the 2011 Legislature removed the program as a source of OPI funding in HB 2543.

Homeowners and Renters Refund Program (HARRP)

was created in 1973 and discontinued by the 1991 Legislature. Refunds were phased down in 1991 and then ended. In 1991 HARRP gave property tax refunds to homeowners and renters with household income of less than $10,000. Assets (excludes homestead, personal property and retirement plans) could not exceed $25,000 unless age 65 or older. The program refunded property taxes up to a maximum for each income group.

Property Tax Relief Program (PTR)

PTR was enacted in 1979 and repealed by the 1985 Legislature. The program, when originally enacted, refunded 30% of qualifying operating levies up to a maximum of $800 for each homeowner. Renters were refunded 4.7% of contract rent up to $400 for each renter.

Elderly Rental Assistance (ERA)

was enacted in 1975. ERA makes payments to renters age 58 and older with annual household income less than $10,000. Assets (excludes homestead, personal property and retirement plans) must be less than $25,000 if under age 65. No asset limit exists for participants older than 65. Rent, fuel and utility costs must exceed 20% of participant household income for calculating a payment. The payment is gross rent (including fuel and utilities) up to the $2,100 limit less 20% of household income, such that the payment reaches the maximum of $2,100 when income is zero and a minimum payment of $100 at $10,000 income. Taxpayers must file Form 90R by July 1 of the year following the year rent was paid to apply for payment the following November. Payments are made by check in November of each year out of a single appropriation to fund this program and make payments to counties in lieu of property taxes for exempt nonprofit corporation housing for elderly persons. If the appropriation is insufficient to cover the payments, payments to both programs are prorated.

In 1992, the total cash outlay from the General Fund reached its highest level with an average refund of $711 per renter. Between 1992 and 2006, the number of participants declined by 63%; and the average refund declined by 34%. One plausible explanation is that between 2002 and 2005, mortgage interest rates declined; and the availability of financial instruments such as the ‘interest only’ mortgages may have enabled a number of former renters to purchase homes. FN1 

(FN1. There are other potential reasons for this decline that worked against eligibility. First, unless a husband and wife or registered domestic partners are living apart permanently on December 31, their income must be combined to determine their household income. Second, in 2005, cost of living allowance raised the minimum social security benefits for a couple to $10,015.)

Another reason is that the income limits to participate in the program are less than the minimum Social Security benefit amount for couples established in 2005. The declining trend has continued through 2015, with 1,754 participants and an average refund of $331.
SB 296 (2015) transfers administration and funding of the ERA program from Department of Revenue (DOR) to Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) department effective July 1, 2017. DOR’s final program processing and check mailing will take place in July and November 2016. After which, OHCS will integrate the ERA program into existing rent relief programs.

Hotter-than-normal temperatures seen for next three months for “every square inch” of the country.

Actress and comedian Lily Tomlin joined Mark Twain among the immortals when she complained that “No matter how cynical I get, I just can’t keep up.”

Climate pessimists can relate, as reality consistently shows that humans have a persistent bias against seeing just how bad things have become, as this piece from Common Dreams Staff Writer Nika Knight makes clear. In an effort to avoid being tagged as “alarmist,” scientists repeatedly fail to see what the data screams: We have destabilized the Earth’s climate regulatory systems and we no longer live in a predictable climate regime – except to the extent that the prediction is for ever more extreme disrupted climate events and ever more savage consequences.

Record global heat in the first half of 2016 has caught climate scientists off-guard, reports Thompson Reuters Foundation.

“What concerns me most is that we didn’t anticipate these temperature jumps,” David Carlson, director of the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) climate research program, told Thompson Reuters Foundation late Monday. “We predicted moderate warmth for 2016, but nothing like the temperature rises we’ve seen.”

“Massive temperature hikes, but also extreme events like floodings, have become the new normal,” Carlson added. “The ice melt rates recorded in the first half of 2016, for example—we don’t usually see those until later in the year.”
Indeed, extreme weather events are currently wreaking havoc around the world.

In Southern California, firefighters are battling one of the “most extreme” fires the region has ever seen. The so-called sand fire had consumed 38,346 acres as of Wednesday morning and forced the evacuations of 10,000 homes, and one person has died.

Meteorologist Eric Holthaus reported on the unusual fire last Friday in Pacific Standard:

The fire, which started as a small brush fire along the side of Highway 14 near Santa Clarita, California, on Friday, quickly spread out of control under weather conditions that were nearly ideal for explosive growth. The fire doubled in size overnight on Friday, and then doubled again during the day on Saturday.

“The fire behavior was some of the most extreme I’ve seen in the Los Angeles area in my career,” says Stuart Palley, a wildfire photographer based in Southern California. “The fire was running all over the place. … It was incredible to see.” There were multiple reports of flames 50 to 100 feet high on Saturday, which is unusual for fires in the region.

Time-lapse footage filmed on July 23 showed the fire’s tall flames and rapid growth:
“Since late 2011,” Holthaus explained, “Los Angeles County has missed out on about three years’ worth of rain. Simply put: Extreme weather and climate conditions have helped produce this fire’s extreme behavior.”

The fire is an omen of things to come, according to Holthaus: “Even if rainfall amounts don’t change in the future, drought and wildfire severity likely will because warmer temperatures are more efficient at evaporating what little moisture does fall. That, according to scientists, means California’s risk of a mega-drought — spanning decades or more — is, or will be soon, the highest it’s been in millennia.”

As University of California professor Anthony LeRoy Westerling wrote Tuesday in the Guardian: “A changing climate is transforming our landscape, and fire is one of the tools it uses. Expect to see more of it, in more places, as temperatures rise.”
Meanwhile, in India’s northeast, Reuters reported Tuesday that over 1.2 million people “have been hit by floods which have submerged hundreds of villages, inundated large swathes of farmland and damaged roads, bridges and telecommunications services, local authorities said on Tuesday.”
Reuters added that nearly 90,000 people are currently being housed in 220 relief camps.

“Incessant monsoon rains in the tea and oil-rich state of Assam have forced the burgeoning Brahmaputra river and its tributaries to burst their banks—affecting more than half of the region’s 32 districts,” the wire service reported.

Local officials also told the media that “more than 60 percent of region’s famed Kaziranga National Park, home to two-thirds of the world’s endangered one-horned rhinoceroses, is also under water, leaving the animals more vulnerable to poaching.”

An unusually heavy monsoon season has also devastated communities in northern China, AFP reported Monday, with nearly 300 dead or missing and hundreds of thousands displaced after catastrophic flooding hit the region.

And in Iraq, temperatures last week reached such unprecedented heights that a chef literally fried an egg on the sidewalk. The TODAY show tweeted footage of the incident:

Stateside, the heat dome continues to inflict scorching summer temperatures across the country. In one Arizona locale, for example, meteorologists are predicting a scorching high temperature on Wednesday of 114° Fahrenheit. One Arizona resident posted a video Tuesday desperately asking people to pray for the state as it faces more hot weather. “It is still six billion degrees,” the resident lamented. “Lord, we need you.”

Yet there appears to be little relief in sight: for the first time ever, USA Today reported Tuesday, the U.S. federal government’s climate prediction center is forecasting hotter-than-normal temperatures for the next three months for “every square inch” of the country.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Oregon’s Climate Researchers Pessimistic

Recent climate changes have caused the seasonal cycles of river and stream flows to be different than what they have been. As temperatures in the winter warm up, more rain falls and less snow falls in the winter than it did before. So less snow accumulates in the winter snow pack, and stream flow increases in the winter but decreases in the summer. The peak flow in rivers occurs earlier in the spring, and the magnitude of peak flow has changed.

There are other significant impacts. Climate change in Oregon has affected the hydrology of a watershed, the demand for water, and the size and thickness of glaciers.

Changes in availability and flow of fresh water
One of the unique features of fresh water supplies in the Pacific Northwest is that most of the water falls as snow in the winter, remains stored in the snow pack for many months, and then is released to the rivers in the summer. As the climate changes and regional temperatures rise, less snow falls, and it falls in different months of the year than it did before. In the winter, melting snow and more frequent rain are contributing to wintertime flooding, which is now more common. In the summer, there is less water in the rivers, because more water ran off earlier in the year; this leads to shortages of water (Hamlet et al 2001).  In basins where rain supplies most of the water throughout the year, an increase of precipitation affects the seasonal pattern of runoff into the rivers (Franczyk and Chang 2009a).

But in high-elevation basins where snow predominates over rain, higher temperatures by themselves change the timing of runoff, even when the amount of precipitation stays the same (Graves and Chang 2007). In contrast, runoff of water may be sustained through the summer in the High Cascades, where slopes are gentle and the rocks are young and volcanic. However, groundwater supplies a larger percentage of the seasonal water flows in the High Cascades, so it’s uncertain how we should forecast water flows in that high-elevation region (Chang and Jung).

In the Willamette River basin, the complex topography and geology also affect the way that each sub-basin responds to a changing climate. In the Western Cascades, the amount of water stored seasonally in snow (known as “snow-water equivalent”) will decline and most of the runoff of water will occur earlier in the year, by the year 2080. Such changes in the timing and location of river flows will significantly affect water users and the economy, especially in the Willamette basin (Franczyk and Chang 2007). Current patterns of water use vary from place to place, and these variations need to be considered in the future management of water as climate changes (Franczyk 2009b). Land use will also change, which will affect future river runoff. All of these trends need to be included in studies of the impacts of climate change (Praskievicz and Chang 2009b).

Recent research, using sophisticated observations, climate models and Northwest US hydrological models, indicates that as much as 60% of these changes in the water cycle result from human activities. The chances for a water crisis are high in Oregon.

Changes in stream water quality
Changes in the volume of flowing water and in the temperature of the air above the stream will alter the chemistry and biology of the stream. This affects the concentration of various nutrients.
Warmer water along with diminished stream flow harms aquatic life in the river. In the Tualatin River, water temperatures have increased significantly in the last 20 years (Chang and Block 2005). While the daily high temperature of the air is still the most important thing that affects the temperature of a stream, the local geology, condition of the stream bed, size of the basin, and variations in the flow all affect the water temperature.

Changes in extreme hydrologic events
Even though the intensity of precipitation in the Willamette River basin has not changed in the winter season since 1972 (Praskievicz and Chang 2009b), the 2007 Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (IPCC 2007) cautioned that extreme events, such as floods and droughts, are increasingly likely because of climate change. Urban areas are particularly vulnerable to flooding because the large area of paved surfaces does not absorb rain water, and a large number of buildings are vulnerable to high waters. In a study in Portland (Chang et al 2009), if climate does change as expected in the future, there will be more frequent major storms that now occur every 25 years or less. Flooding is likely to be more common at those road intersections with a history of chronic flooding.

Changes in water demand
Water consumption in the suburban city of Hillsboro, Oregon, was not affected by drought conditions in one study (House-Peters et al 2009). But when rainfall was low and daytime temperatures were above normal, the summertime water consumption depended more on physical qualities of the property than on socio-economic qualities of the residents. This suggests that smart urban planning could reduce water demand in seasons that are warmer than usual.

Snow and ice
Warmer temperatures have led to rapid retreat or thinning of glaciers on Mt. Hood and other places in the Pacific Northwest (Fountain 2007). The seven glaciers on Mt. Hood lost an average of 34% of their surface area between the years 1907 and 2004 (Jackson and Fountain 2007). Rising temperatures and decreased snow pack will alter the seasonal availability of water for hydroelectric power (IPCC 2007). Changing patterns of water flow throughout the year, and changing levels of lakes and reservoirs, also affect life in rivers and streams (USEPA 1998).
Availability of water from the winter snow pack, as measured by the “Spring Snow Water Equivalent,” has been declining since 1925, and especially since 1950. The Oregon Cascade mountains have experienced the largest losses of available water in the West (Mote et al 2005) as precipitation has decreased at the same time as the region has warmed.

Summary from the Oregon Climate Change Resource Institute.  Full source citations at OCCRI site.


After facing community resistance, bottled beverage giant Nestlé Waters North America this week ditched its plans to extract water from a Monroe County, Penn. spring.

The plan would have seen Nestlé take 200,000 gallons of water per day from the source in Kunkletown, located in Eldred Township, and truck it away daily to a nearby plant where it would have been bottled under its Deer Park brand.

The plans for the water grab, helped by the municipality, which may have improperly adopted a corporate-friendly ordinance, had drawn the ire of many local residents, who celebrated the development.

“This entire village of Kunkletown came together and slayed the dragon, and it’s something to be proud of,” Eldred Township resident Donna Deihl told the Allentown Morning Call.
The change in plans was announced at a township supervisors meeting Wednesday, during which Eric Andreus, a hydrogeologist for Nestlé, said (pdf) the company faced “logistical and design challenges.”

He also acknowledged local opposition, adding, “it is clear to us that the community in Eldred Township does not believe the process around this project worked the way it was intended and that many of you have concerns about this project,” adding, “We have not been successful in gaining the same acceptance here in Eldred Township as we have in other communities that host our operations.”

When the announcement came, “The room went crazy,” Deihl said. “We clapped, we applauded, standing ovation. We cried.”

The news comes less than a month after voters in Hood River County, Ore. stopped a years-long attempt by Nestlé to extract up to 100 million gallons a year of Oxbow Springs water and bottle it under the Arrowhead brand.

Indeed, as Alexis Bonogofsky previously reported, “Kunkletown residents’ effort to keep Nestlé out of their community is not an isolated or parochial fight. Nestlé, which has the largest share of the bottled water market in the United States, is looking to secure and privatize water resources in the U.S. and around the world.”

One such place the corporation is taking water is in drought-stricken California.  Activists are gearing up for a rally outside a federal courthouse in Riverside, Calif. where a judge will consider a challenge to Nestlé’s water-bottling pipeline in the San Bernardino National Forest.  “Why should Nestlé — the largest food and beverage company in the U.S. — get to operate a huge bottled water operation on a permit that’s been expired for 30 years during a historic drought when it’s causing what used to be a perennial stream that wildlife use to go dry?” said Ileene Anderson, senior scientist and public lands deserts director at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups behind the legal challenge.

Addressing such battles, Charles Pierce wrote at Esquire last month, ” If there is one element that cannot be turned over to whatever people believe market forces to be, it’s water. It should never be commodified or sold off to make some investor wealthy far from the people who need it. That this ever needs to be argued is a measure of how far we’ve allowed corporate power to change us as a nation,” he wrote.
This work by Common Dreams staff writer Andrea Germanos appeared there on 10 June 2016 and is licensed and appears in OregonPEN under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

The campaign to force deny poor women and girls access to abortion services through funding restrictions was the first initiative campaign to file a measure for the November 2018 general election. Proponents filed a proposed constitutional amendment on 27 June 2016 that would not only prohibit direct state funding for abortion services but would also prevent public funding of insurance plans that offer abortion coverage.

The People of Oregon hereby amend the Oregon Constitution by adding the following: SECTION 1. PROHIBITION ON PUBLIC FUNDING FOR ABORTIONS.
The state shall not spend public funds for any abortion, except when medically necessary or as may be required by federal law.
As used in this Article:

  1. “Public funds” means funds and moneys under the control or in the custody of the State of Oregon or any of its political subdivisions or public officials.
  1. “Abortion” means the purposeful termination of a clinically diagnosed pregnancy of a woman resulting in the death of the human embryo or fetus.
  1. “Medically necessary” means a condition in which a licensed physician determines that the pregnant woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would place her in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, including a life- endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself.


  1. Public funds may be spent to pay for an abortion when federal law requires states to provide funding for abortions, such as in circumstances including rape or incest, in which case this Article shall be applied consistent with federal law to the extent the federal requirement is found to be constitutional.
  1. Public funds may be spent to pay for the termination of a clinically diagnosed ectopic pregnancy.

Nothing in this Article shall be construed as prohibiting the expenditure of public funds to pay for health insurance as long as such funds are not spent to pay or reimburse for the costs of performing abortions.

The proponents submitted the following as their proposed summary explanation of the amendment for the petitions to carry:

Amends Constitution: Prohibits state from spending “public funds” (defined) for “abortion” (defined); reduces abortion access

Result of “Yes” Vote:  “Yes” vote amends constitution, prohibits state spending “public funds” (defined) for “abortion” (defined); state may not pay for insurance covering “abortion”; reduces abortion access; exceptions.

Result of “No” Vote: “No” vote retains current law allowing state to spend public funds for abortion or health insurance plans covering abortion when medical professional determines medically necessary.
Summary: Amends Constitution. Current law allows abortion to be provided, when determined by medical professional to be medically necessary, under public health plans available to qualified and eligible persons, or under health insurance policies obtained through a public employer or other public service. Measure amends constitution to prohibit the state from spending “public funds” (defined) to pay for any “abortion” (defined). The state may not pay for insurance benefits that cover “abortion.” Effect on spending by public entities other than the state is unclear. Measure reduces access to abortion.  Measure defines “abortion” as “purposeful termination of a clinically diagnosed pregnancy.” Exceptions for payments required by federal law and for abortion to terminate ectopic pregnancy or to prevent death of pregnant woman; other exceptions.  Other provisions.

The effect of these sorts of restrictions cannot be understated, as they would turn Oregon further into a two-class health care system, where poor women and girls would be even further burdened by restrictions on access to the same services that wealthy women can obtain. The Guttmacher Institute, the nation’s premier researchers on reproductive health, have published an excellent summary of the forced-birth movement’s campaign to use backdoor methods, such as insurance funding restrictions, to reduce access to abortions nationally. Although Oregon is currently among the states without abortion restrictions, the state level Hyde amendment proposed in this initiative would reverse that completely.

. . . old enough to know if it’s unsafe to tell a parent about an abortion

Alaskan Top Court Voids Parental Notice Law for Teens Seeking Abortion

Friday, July 22, 2016 – 1:45pm — ACLU
NEW YORK – The Alaska Supreme Court today found unconstitutional a law requiring physicians to notify a parent, guardian, or custodian of a minor seeking an abortion. Today’s decision comes less than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its historic ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt — the most significant abortion-related ruling from the Court in more than two decades.
The Alaska Supreme Court struck down the requirement, finding that there was no basis on which to distinguish between minors seeking abortion and minors carrying to term – burdening only minors seeking abortion therefore violates the equal protection guarantees of the Alaska Constitution.
“A young woman seeking an abortion doesn’t need additional hurdles. She needs a doctor,” said Joshua A. Decker, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska. “We have a responsibility to keep our daughters safe, and this law doesn’t do that. Healthy families don’t need government mandates to communicate. Instead, young women from families in crisis and young women in fear need safe, prompt, confidential health care, free of government-imposed restrictions.”
The evidence in Alaska shows that most young women seeking an abortion involve a parent. But some young women live in an abusive home, or a home where it would not be safe to disclose a pregnancy. The law would have required a young woman to go through a complicated legal process to persuade a judge to allow her to have an abortion without parental involvement — forcing abortions later in pregnancy, if the young woman could access the procedure at all.
“Today’s decision provides important protection to the safety and well-being of young women who need to end a pregnancy,” said Janet Crepps, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions. This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm.”
Mandatory parental involvement laws like Alaska’s are opposed by state and national medical experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics because they do not foster healthy communication, and in fact can be very detrimental to the health and safety of young women. In fact, the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine have all advocated for the need to protect minor’s access to confidential reproductive health services.
“We applaud the court for ruling to protect the health and safety of young women in Alaska,” said Christine Charbonneau, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. “We all want teens to be safe — and the sad truth is that some teens live in dangerous homes and can’t go to their parents. This law would prevent some of Alaska’s most vulnerable teens from accessing safe medical care.”
The plaintiffs in this challenge — Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands, Dr. Susan Lemagie and Dr. Jan Whitefield — are represented by a team that includes attorneys from the ACLU, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood. An Alaska state court judge initially upheld part of the law and eventually allowed the notification requirement to go into effect while striking down other provisions.

Three activists seek 21st-Century reboot of Oregon’s system for initiatives and referendums with their “Grassroots Petitioning Initiative”


Three Willamette Valley citizen activists filed an initiative petition for the 2018 election last Monday in hopes of using the pioneering early 20th-Century “Oregon System” — America’s first state system of initiatives and referendums — to require the state to update the system for the internet era by allowing voters who can already register to vote online to sign petitions for initiatives and referendums the same way.

Whereas allowing the People of Oregon to sign petitions online will increase access to the initiative process for the nearly 90% of Oregonians who currently use the internet, many of whom will otherwise never have the chance to sign an official petition and help advance a citizens’ initiative to the ballot;

Whereas many Oregonians already sign petitions online, and being able to sign petitions from home will allow many people from rural areas as well as people with disabilities, illness and injuries to participate in the initiative process whom otherwise wouldn’t;

Whereas allowing petition signatures to be gathered online will lower the cost of collecting signatures for the People of Oregon, will lower the cost of verifying signatures for the Secretary of State, and will create more convenience for Oregonians whom are already civically [sic] engaged;

Whereas increasing access to the ballot will improve and strengthen our democracy, and will help to inspire more Oregonians to become civically [sic] engaged; now, therefore, be it

Enacted by the People of the State of Oregon that SECTION 1. ORS 250.105 is amended to read as follows:

(1)(a) An initiative or referendum petition relating to a state measure must be filed with the Secretary of State for the purpose of verifying whether the petition contains the required number of signatures of electors.

(b)      Signatures previously verified on a prospective petition for a state measure to be initiated shall be included in the calculation under this section for the purpose of verifying whether the initiative petition contains the required number of signatures of electors.

(c)      When filing an initiative or referendum petition, the signature sheets must be sorted on the basis of the name of the person who obtained the signatures on the sheet.

(d)      The secretary shall adopt rules establishing procedures for verifying signatures on an initiative or referendum petition, including rules which allow no less than nine tenths of the required signatures for an initiative or referendum petition to be gathered from electors digitally using the internet and computers.

(e)      A filed initiative or referendum petition must contain only original signatures. The secretary or county clerk shall verify each petition in the order in which the petitions are filed with the secretary.

(f) The Secretary of State shall create and administer a website which allows Oregon electors to sign initiative and referendum petitions digitally and is accessible via the internet. The website shall be able to be utilized with: any type of internet connection, with any of the most commonly used internet browsers and using any type of personal computer including but not limited to: smart phones, laptops, desktops and tablets.

“This puts the power back into the hands of the people!”

The “Grassroots Petitioning Initiative” is the first Oregon statutory initiative for 2018. (See story below for the first constitutional amendment proposal for 2018.) It is the handiwork of three Willamette Valley citizen activists: David Carlson, Ashley Bardales, and Justin Brice who seem well-suited to recognizing the need to bring the initiative and referendum system into the digital era.

Carlson is a late-20s native Oregonian and now lives in Aloha while attending Portland State to get a bachelors degree in environmental studies. Bardales describes herself as “a single mother, a licensed hair stylist and a social justice activist.” She worked in the “15Now” campaign to raise the wage to $15 an hour and that succeeded in getting Oregon to blaze another trail, a sharp increase in the minimum wage in the Willamette Valley with lesser increases in more rural counties. Bardales has also been a canvasser for over a decades and has worked on campaigns to register young voters, as well as fundraising for national and local environmental organizations. Brice, from rural California, appears to be the most tech-savvy of the three; he is a geographic information systems (GIS) Technician with Conservation Biology Institute in Corvallis who holds a BS in Wildlife Conservation from Humboldt State University and minor in Geospatial Sciences.

Currently, all three are registered as Democratic Party members. Brice wanted to be a Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention; Bardales recently registered with the Democratic Party as well. Carlson, who describes himself as “currently” working with the Democratic Party is at the first rung of the ladder, having won election this year as a precinct committee person in Washington County, after having served as an intern during the 2015 legislative session for Rep. Joe Gallegos. Carlson also credits the $15 minimum wage effort as instrumental in making him an activist, and he has branched out since then into activism around housing rights and anti-racism campaigns such as Black Lives Matter.

The three describe the grassroots petitioning initiative as a response to the capture of Oregon’s pioneering initiative system by monied interests which has left Oregon’s democracy “stunted . . . largely due to a lack of accessibility” in Bardales’s view.

“Currently, money has major control over what Oregonians get to vote on and what bills get passed.”

The idea of an electronic petition and ballot system provided by the State of Oregon comes at a critical time. Our state and country’s democracy has been stunted. This is largely due to a lack of accessibility.

By having petitions available online, we are leveling the playing field. We are giving everyone the opportunity to be part of the people process of ballot measures. It means that those who are in rural Oregon can vote on statewide ballots.

It means that people who have a difficult time leaving their homes will be able to have their say. It also means that people will have the ability to look over the entirety of an initiative in their own homes, at their own time, before they sign on.

As a person who has been canvassing for 12 years, it gives me great satisfaction to know that when someone says they don’t feel comfortable signing on the street, I can give them the secured state-run website so they can look over the initiative and make an educated decision for themselves. This puts the power back into the hands of the people!

Brice wants to make it easier for all Oregonians to be included in direct democracy efforts, which are currently concentrated almost entirely in Portland and Eugene. He grew up in a rural farming community in California and understands the disconnect from city centers and information sharing. He wants to take advantage of the way the internet has expanded the reach of information sharing, making it easy to hear the voices of rural communities that could otherwise be left out.
All three petitioners express confidence that the Secretary of State’s computer security is adequate to ensure that signatures are genuine, pointing out that we already allow voters to register online and that online signatures will permit immediate detection of duplicate signatures and attempts to sign by people not registered to vote.

The advantages of online signature gathering, as described by Carlson, the most conventionally politically active of the three:

Our state has the best voter registration system in the country, now we need to raise the bar for engagement. The core of this is increasing democracy in our state.
In line with that, making it possible for people in rural Oregon and those with disabilities or sickness, to sign ballot initiatives, since many of them never see a paper [petition].
Signing initiatives online will reduce the barrier to entry (the average campaign spends around $400,000 just collecting signature) for grassroots activists by reducing the cost to them just to get on the ballot. We believe there is potential for saving money on the state’s side as well, given that signers will be automatically verified online instead of by hand, reducing the cost of verifying signatures.

Bardales, with the most experience of the three in grassroots activism, sees the plusses of the proposal as “Ease, Accessibility, and Affordability.”

Ease. Having initiatives available online means any registered voter can sign from their phone, tablet, laptop, desktop or their friendly neighborhood canvasser.

Accessibility. Most petition signatures are gathered on the streets of Portland. Which leaves out rural Oregon and folks who have difficulties leaving their homes.

Affordability. This levels the playing field for not only signing petitions, but creating them. It will be less costly for organizations and individuals to create and complete initiatives. As well as being less costly for signature verifying and petitions printing by the secretary of state.

Brice sees the effort as fundamental to public empowerment in the future, arguing that being able to participate in initiative and referendum campaigns online

  1. . . . would show that the citizens of Oregon are ready to use the internet to increase the opportunity of citizen participation in the initiative process. This allows the grassroots to take issues to the state level in a streamlined fashion and increase civic engagement across the state.
  2. I base this forecast on the fact that 90% of Oregonians use the internet and most get their news from online sources. We live in the 21st century where the internet plays a huge role in our day to day lives and I believe it’s time that citizens can use this technology to participate in democracy.

I believe that our petition would increase awareness about the issues that the citizens of Oregon care about and present the information and argument in ways that allow citizens to make informed decisions which could make it harder for wealthy interests to capture the process.

Both Bardales and Carlson share the concern with the way that the current signature gathering rules make the Oregon initiative and referendum process, which was originally created to wrest control of the legislative process from the wealthy interests, a tool that is again only available to wealthy interests. Both point to the narrow defeat of the initiative to require genetically modified foods to be labeled, where out of state corporations poured huge sums into the “No” campaign.

Bardales: With the ease and affordability, I think many more individuals and organizations will put forth ballot initiatives. Not to mention, more initiatives will complete the necessary signature requirements. We’ll have more ballot measures. I forecast an increase in engagement and political activeness once we have a secured website up and running for registered Oregon voters. This is going to have a huge impact on our laws, as the power will be back in the hands of the people.
We can use the minimum wage campaign as an example. Legislation took over and passed a wage which was influenced by corporate lobbyists. There is bigger money in lobbying legislation than ballot initiatives. This is how we can level the field.
Carlson: The increased engagement by ordinary citizens through the initiative process is critical to an efficient democracy, yet big money has inhibited us from getting even the most common sense laws passed.

If nothing else changes with our campaign finance rules, then issues could arise; however, this ballot initiative is just the conversation starter. Our plan is to transition this campaign into an organization to further our quest for publicly funded elections in our state and our country, along with a slew of other climate first policies, including a carbon tax.
We understand the influence of large, out of state money in Oregon elections . A great example is GMO labeling in 2014, where the opposition spent more than three times as much as the proponents, yet [the measure lost] by less than 1%.

One aspect of our vision for this initiative is that you will be able to see who the major donors are, who is sponsoring, the full text, links to pro and con websites, etc. in one place, so that voters are easily able to become informed on the subject in question. This will counter the propaganda spread around and diminish the ability of money to influence campaigns, since the information is in one place for all to see freely.

Currently, money has major control over what Oregonians get to vote on and what bills get passed.
When Ashley and I were with 15 NOW, we witnessed the power of corporate influence over the democratic leadership and the narrative around living wages. [Corporate] donations to the Democratic Party influenced the leadership to believe a $15 minimum wage would have increased unemployment and hurt small business, even though the Oregon Center for Public Policy found that even in rural Oregon, a single person without kids, needs a minimum of $14.66 to be self sufficient. That shows me our legislators knew that research was there, yet decided to do something more workable for corporations, who have the lowest tax burden in the country.
Oregon would be voting for a $15 minimum wage in November if the leadership hadn’t worked to block our campaign by initially proposing $13.50, which turned into a three-tier system that will keep thousands of people in poverty six years from now.
Had we been able to get signatures online, we would have continued our campaign and won. Unfortunately, we were unable to get enough funding or support from even the chief petitioners from the 2015 bill to keep going. These experiences showed us that our only way to force our elected officials to make the will of the people into policy is through an improved way to hold them accountable through direct democracy.

The initiative began as a joke about an app like change.org, but quickly turned into a serious discussion about the benefits of filling out initiatives online, for the activists, citizens, and the state. It will increase democracy to all of Oregon, save money for the grassroots activists, and improve the citizens capability to hold their elected officials accountable.

Why Insurance Coverage Matters:  Abortion in the lives of women struggling financially
– Guttmacher Institute analysis


  • Although the U.S. abortion rate has reached its lowest level since 1973, abortion is increasingly concentrated among low-income women. 
  • The Hyde Amendment, in effect since 1977, essentially bans federal dollars from being used for abortion coverage for women insured by Medicaid, the nation’s main public health insurance program for low-income Americans. 
  • Women who are low-income and lack insurance coverage for abortion often struggle to come up with the money to pay for the procedure. As a result, they often experience delays obtaining an abortion or are forced to carry their unintended pregnancy to term.
  • Supporters of abortion rights have coalesced behind several state- and national-level initiatives that aim to end the Hyde Amendment, so that the nation’s poorest women have greater access to safe and legal abortion care.

Abortion has been legal throughout the United States for more than 40 years, but it remains one of the country’s hottest political flashpoints. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump stumbled into it when he said in a TV interview that if abortion were made illegal, women seeking one should be criminally punished—a statement that he later tried to reframe with a more formal announcement that he is “prolife with exceptions.”1

Meanwhile, Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have both called for expanding access to abortion by ending the Hyde Amendment. At a campaign rally in January, Clinton said the policy only makes it harder for low-income women to exercise their full rights: “Any right that requires you to take extraordinary measures to access it is no right at all,” she said.2  

The Hyde Amendment, named after the late Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), is in many ways the grandfather of all abortion restrictions. It was passed in 1976, went into effect in 1977 and was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1980. Since that time, the Hyde Amendment has severely restricted abortion coverage for women insured by Medicaid and, in turn, has made real reproductive choice a privilege of those who can afford it, rather than a fundamental right.  

Having presidential candidates firmly commit to lifting the Hyde Amendment is not new, but it is a welcome advancement to reproductive rights activists. (Similar endorsements from congressional candidates will be important too, given that ending the Hyde Amendment will require an act of Congress.) While policymakers supportive of abortion rights have devoted much effort trying to stave off the surge of abortion restrictions in recent years, challenges to the Hyde Amendment—in the states and Congress—mostly have languished on the back burner. Now, advocates for abortion rights are working to change that by shining a light on the importance of abortion coverage and putting the abortion rights movement back on the offensive. 
Abortion and Low-Income Women

Over the last several decades, substantial progress has been made toward enabling American women and their partners to control their childbearing. Improved contraceptive use has helped women to better avoid unintended pregnancies, and as a result of fewer unintended pregnancies, the overall abortion rate declined to 17 per 1,000 women aged 15–44 in 2011, the lowest since 1973 (see “New Clarity for the U.S. Abortion Debate: A Steep Drop in Unintended Pregnancy Is Driving Recent Abortion Declines,” 2016).3,4

But not all women are sharing equally in this progress. Although the rate of unintended pregnancy among low-income women declined between 2008 and 2011, major disparities remain. In 2011, the unintended pregnancy rate among women with an income below the federal poverty level ($18,530 for a family of three that year5) was more than five times that among women with an income at or above 200% of poverty (112 vs. 20 per 1,000 women aged 15–44).6 And because of this high rate of unintended pregnancy, women who are struggling financially experience high levels of abortion. 

Indeed, over the last few decades, abortion has become increasingly concentrated among the poor. In 2014, 49% of abortion patients had a family income below the federal poverty level—up from 27% in 2000.7,8 An additional 26% of abortion patients in 2014 had an income that was 100–199% of the poverty threshold. In other words, 75% of abortions in 2014 were among low-income patients.

The reasons women give for having an abortion underscore their understanding of the economic impact unplanned childbearing would have on themselves and their families. Most abortion patients say that they cannot afford a child or another child, and most say that having a baby would interfere with their work, school or ability to care for their other children.9 Most women also cite concern for or responsibility to other individuals as a factor in their decision to have an abortion. These concerns make particular sense when one considers that six in 10 women who have an abortion are already a parent.7  

Unfortunately, for a pregnant woman who is already struggling to get by, the cost of an abortion may be more than she can afford on her own. The average amount paid for an abortion at 10 weeks’ gestation was $480 in 2011–2012.10 The University of California, San Francisco Turnaway Study—a five-year longitudinal study of roughly 1,000 women seeking abortion care at 30 facilities across the United States—found that for more than half of women who received an abortion, their out-of-pocket costs (for the procedure, as well as for travel and hotel, if needed) were equivalent to more than one-third of their monthly personal income.11

Other studies show that many Americans do not have adequate savings to cover a financial emergency of any kind. In 2013, the Federal Reserve Board conducted a nationally representative household survey designed to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.”12 The survey asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency, and 47% said either that they would cover it by borrowing or selling something, or that they would not be able to come up with the money.

Enter Hyde

In 2015, roughly 90% of Americans had health insurance coverage to help defray the costs of any medical bills.13 However, unlike most other types of health care services, abortion is highly politicized, and insurance coverage for abortion has been the target of severe restrictions. 

Forty years ago, in the wake of Roe v. Wade, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment—which bans the use of federal funds for abortion services in all but the most extreme circumstances—by attaching it to the annual spending bill funding what is now the Department of Health and Human Services. From the start, antiabortion politicians have acknowledged that, without a path to ban abortion outright, they have used the power of the purse to interfere with women’s decision-making around abortion. During debate over the measure, Hyde told his colleagues, “I certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle-class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the…Medicaid bill.”14 

The Hyde Amendment was hotly debated throughout the 1970s and has changed over time. In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Hyde Amendment, ruling that the Hyde restrictions do not interfere with the right recognized in Roe because “a woman’s freedom of choice [does not carry] with it a constitutional entitlement to the financial resources to avail herself of the full range of protected choices.” Justice William Brennan wrote in a dissenting opinion that the Hyde Amendment “is nothing less than an attempt by Congress to circumvent the dictates of the Constitution and achieve indirectly what Roe v. Wade said it could not do directly.” Also of concern to the justices was the fact that Hyde specifically targets the constitutional rights of poor women. The Hyde Amendment, wrote Justice Thurgood Marshall, “is designed to deprive poor and minority women of the constitutional right to choose abortion.”

Since fiscal year 1994, the Hyde Amendment has limited federal reimbursement for abortions under Medicaid to cases of rape, incest or when a woman’s life is threatened. The harmful impact of the Hyde Amendment is only mitigated for women who happen to live in states that use their own funds to provide abortion coverage for Medicaid recipients. Seventeen states have a policy (either voluntarily or by court order) requiring the use of state funds to cover abortions for low-income women enrolled in Medicaid, but just 15 states appear to be doing so in practice (see map).15 (Arizona and Illinois are funding so few abortions that they appear to be in violation of their court orders.16) In states where Medicaid covers abortion services, 89% of abortion patients with Medicaid used their insurance to access abortion care.7

In addition to the Hyde Amendment itself, Congress has enacted numerous laws that similarly restrict abortion coverage or services for other groups of women who obtain their health insurance or health care from the federal government, including federal employees, military personnel, federal prison inmates, poor residents of the District of Columbia (because Congress has jurisdiction over the District’s policy) and Native American women (see graphic). These policies have changed over time and all now mirror the Hyde Amendment, in that they include exceptions in cases of rape, incest or when a woman’s life is endangered.

Demonstrated Impact

The number of women potentially affected by the Hyde Amendment is substantial. Of women aged 15–44 enrolled in Medicaid, 60% live in the 35 states and the District of Columbia that do not cover abortion, except in limited circumstances.17 This amounts to roughly seven million women of reproductive age, including 3.4 million who are living below the federal poverty level. 

The Hyde Amendment falls particularly hard on women of color. Because of social and economic inequality linked to racism and discrimination, women of color are disproportionately likely to be insured by the Medicaid program: Thirty percent of black women and 24% of Hispanic women aged 15–44 are enrolled in Medicaid, compared with 14% of white women (see graphic).17

A number of studies conducted over the last four decades have assessed the impact of the Hyde Amendment.18 To afford an abortion, many low-income women without coverage for the procedure delay or forgo paying utility bills or rent, or buying food for themselves and their children;19 others rely on family members for financial help, receive financial assistance from clinics or sell their personal belongings.7,19 

Moreover, women who have decided to have an abortion can get caught in a cruel cycle, in which the delays associated with raising the funds to pay for the abortion can lead to additional costs and delays. Abortion in the second trimester can cost 2–3 times as much as abortion in the first trimester.10 Because of the time and effort needed to scrape together the funds, many low-income women have to postpone their abortion: Fifty-four percent of women in the Turnaway study sample reported that having to raise money for an abortion delayed their obtaining care.11 In addition, the risk of complications from abortion—although exceedingly small at any point—increases with gestational age.20

Although most low-income women who want an abortion manage to obtain one, some do not, and the result is an unplanned and often unwanted birth. A number of studies published over the course of decades have examined how many women are forced to forgo their right to abortion and bear children they did not intend. A 2009 literature review published by the Guttmacher Institute identified studies from five states that compared the ratio of abortions to births before and after coverage ended.18 The review concludes that among women with Medicaid coverage subject to the Hyde Amendment who seek an abortion, one in four are unable to obtain one because of lack of abortion coverage. 

The Turnaway study examined the reasons for not obtaining an abortion after being denied one because of provider gestational limits. Among those who considered having an abortion elsewhere, but never obtained one, 85% reported that the reason for not obtaining an abortion was the cost of the procedure and travel.21 The study also found that when a woman who is already struggling to get by is denied an abortion, she is especially likely to fall into poverty.22 Women denied an abortion who subsequently had a child (or another child) were more likely than women who received an abortion to be unemployed, receiving public assistance and living below the federal poverty level one year after their clinic visit—despite the fact that there were no economic differences between the women a year earlier.

Going on the Offensive

Over the last several years, antiabortion legislators have been alarmingly successful at pursuing abortion restrictions at the federal and state levels, which have made it ever more difficult for women who are already struggling economically to access abortion care. Although policymakers who support abortion rights have stood up against these new restrictions, many have been more reticent to take up the fight to repeal the Hyde Amendment. Given a political environment so intensely hostile to abortion rights, many of these elected officials have asserted that this is not the optimal time to force a reopening of the issue of Medicaid coverage for abortion, which has been banned longer than many of them have been in office.

But abortion rights advocates are hoping to change that perception. In 2013, activists with All* Above All—a nationwide network of reproductive rights and justice organizations—launched a series of grassroots and communications campaigns aimed at building support for lifting the Hyde Amendment. “The name All* Above All reflects our positive and powerful belief that each of us, not just some of us, must be able to make the important decision of whether to end a pregnancy,” the campaign explains on its website. “For too long, politicians have been allowed to deny a woman’s abortion coverage just because she is poor….We are standing up to say ‘enough.’”23

All* Above All is using several different tactics to bring the Hyde Amendment back into the national conversation. It has developed a social media effort to drum up support for repealing Hyde. Activists have visited college campuses to get young people involved with these efforts. And it launched a “Be Bold” road trip in August 2014 that, after a six-week tour through 12 cities, ended in Washington, DC with a petition urging Congress to repeal the Hyde Amendment.

The centerpiece of this campaign is the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act, which was introduced by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) in 2015, and now has a list of 117 cosponsors. The bill would restore abortion coverage for those insured by the Medicaid program, as well as those who receive their health coverage and care through other federal programs. In addition, it would prohibit states and the federal government from banning or limiting abortion coverage in the private insurance market. 

The bill is based on the principle that abortion is basic health care and, therefore, deserving of health insurance coverage, whether public or private. “The EACH Woman Act put the prochoice movement back on the offensive,” says Lee. “Politicians shouldn’t be meddling in a woman’s personal healthcare decision just because she’s poor.”24

Several other proactive initiatives that address abortion restrictions more broadly are also underway. In 2013 and again in 2015, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act, in response to the unprecedented number of state-level restrictions on abortion. With 33 cosponsors in the Senate and 144 in the House, the bill is designed to reaffirm women’s right to abortion by making it unlawful for states to enact burdensome requirements—such as previability abortion bans and unwarranted doctor and clinic regulations—that do not advance women’s health and safety and that make abortion services more difficult to access, especially for poor women. The drive to eliminate these types of restrictions received a major boost with the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2016 decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which struck down several such provisions in Texas.

Another proactive effort, this one aimed at state-level policymakers, kicked off in January 2016, with the release of A Playbook for Abortion Rights.25 The Playbook was launched by the Public Leadership Institute—a nonprofit educational group organized to raise public awareness on key issues of equity and justice—and it provides model state bills for improving women’s access to abortion care. Among those model bills that would particularly affect low-income women is the Abortion Coverage Equity Act, which would require that abortion be covered in all types of health insurance offered, sold or purchased in the state.

In addition, several digital campaigns are underway that encourage women to share their abortion stories as a way to destigmatize the procedure. Some of these efforts (such as The Abortion Diary) are not necessarily political, whereas others (the 1 in 3 Campaign or the #ShoutYourAbortion campaign) have a strong relationship with activism and political organizing. Although not directly targeted at the Hyde Amendment, these campaigns are using storytelling to strengthen support for abortion access, bring the perspectives of low-income women to the debate about reproductive freedom and choice, and “soften the ground” for policy change.  

Each of these campaigns endeavors in its own way to raise awareness among the general public and move elected officials to recognize that low-income women deserve the same reproductive rights and access as those who are more fortunate. In many ways, it is “back to the future” for abortion rights advocates. Some 45 years ago, the effort to legalize abortion nationwide that led to Roe v. Wade was driven in large part by a concern with disparities, because low-income women were disproportionately affected by the criminalization of abortion. Even in states where abortion was illegal, women with financial means often had access to a safe albeit clandestine procedure, whereas less-affluent women had few options aside from a dangerous, back-alley abortion. And after the fight to legalize abortion was won, one of the first battlegrounds to follow was over the Hyde Amendment.

The proactive campaigns to heighten attention and call for action to cover abortion care under health insurance—especially for low-income women on Medicaid—seem to be gaining some traction among candidates who support abortion rights. Increasingly, more seem comfortable talking about the issue and fighting for reform.

With a new administration and Congress taking office next year, and elections in all 50 states too, advocates are hopeful about rebuilding support—however long it takes—toward achieving true access to abortion care for low-income women, regardless of the state in which they live. This is and should be the heart of the abortion rights struggle in this country.

The Guttmacher Institute is a leading research and policy organization committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights in the United States and globally. Footnotes at the Guttmacher website.