SALEM — Oregon lawmakers, anticipating federal abortion restrictions and health-care cuts, considered a proposed law Wednesday that would ban interference in terminating a pregnancy, and would ensure full reproductive health care coverage.
The measure sponsored by a host of lawmakers in one of America's most liberal states could set a precedent for other states.
But some of the witnesses who testified Wednesday before the House Committee On Health Care warned that the legislation could provoke the federal government to cut up to $10.7 billion in funds to Oregon.
The bill requires coverage of medical services, drugs and products related to reproductive health, with no co-pay or deductible. The Oregon Health Authority would implement programs to reimburse those costs to those "who would be eligible for medical assistance if not for certain federal requirements."
The measure, sponsored by three House representatives and 19 senators, prohibits any "public body" from interfering in a woman's choice to have an abortion, and interfering in any licensed health care provider terminating a pregnancy.
The chief executive of Providence Health Plans, which runs eight hospitals and bills itself as Oregon's largest health care provider, said that as a Catholic-sponsored organization it is "strongly opposed" to the measure.
"Catholic institutions are not permitted to provide, or cooperate with the provision of, abortion services," Michael Cotton said. "This would be considered material cooperation and is a red line for Providence Health Plans that cannot be crossed."
However the bill allows a religious employer to use a health benefit plan that does not include coverage for contraceptives or abortion procedures that violate the employer's religious tenets. Also, if the state Department of Consumer and Business Services concludes that enforcement may threaten federal funds, the department may grant a minimal exemption to the requirements "to ensure the continued receipt of federal funds."
House Speaker Tina Kotek told reporters that the measure makes sure that all reproductive health care is affordable and accessible.
An editorial by The New York Times, entered as testimony by Rep. Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, one of the bill's sponsors, said the bill may serve as a model for other states. The opinion piece by the newspaper's editorial board said the measure is "a powerful defense, at the state level, of necessary reproductive health care."
If the bill becomes law, a person may not be excluded for "sexual orientation, gender identity" and other reasons. Basic Rights Oregon, which promotes equality for LGBTQ citizens, said "this legislation is a necessary step in the right direction to ensure that all transgender Oregonians have access to lifesaving care."
The Oregon Nurses Association said that with the Affordable Care Act facing repeal, "hundreds of thousands of Oregonians could lose no-cost-share coverage for essential reproductive health services.
"This legislation ensures that all Oregonians are able to decide if and when they have children, based on what is best for them and their family's circumstances," the nurses association said.
Ramon Ramirez, president of Oregon's farmworker union, said some 48,000 women of reproductive age in Oregon can't get Medicaid or buy insurance due to their immigration status. He noted in written testimony that the legislation provides reproductive health care "for all Oregonians, regardless of income, citizenship status, gender identity or type of insurance."