- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2017

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Thursday that she plans to sign a sweeping, unprecedented bill requiring insurers to provide free abortions for their customers, including illegal immigrants.

“The ability to control our bodies and make informed decisions about health are critical to providing all Oregonians the opportunity to achieve our full potential and live productive, thriving lives,” the Democratic chief executive said in an email. “Attempts to deny access to contraceptives and family planning are an attack on all Oregonians, particularly women of color, low-income and young women.”

The $10.2 million bill, which cleared the state House and Senate with no Republican votes, also comes as a badly needed boost for Planned Parenthood’s Oregon affiliate, which helped write the measure and pushed for its passage as it struggles to keep its doors open.

Democrats said the bill would ensure equal access to abortion, but several Republicans said they didn’t understand why the legislation was necessary, given that Oregon already has the least-restrictive abortion laws in the nation.

“We don’t need to do this. This is Oregon,” Republican state Rep. Mike Nearman said during the House floor debate. “There [are] no legal restrictions on anyone’s right to get an abortion. You can get an abortion at any time for any reason. Even sex selection.”

About $500,000 would be designated for the estimated 22,873 women who would be eligible for the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s Medicaid program, “except for their immigration status.”

Republican state Rep. Bill Post said he was “heartbroken” by the vote and predicted the bill would increase the number of abortions in Oregon by at least 3,000 each year.

Mr. Nearman said the bill shows that Oregon has moved from allowing abortion to advancing it.

“Now I guess the only thing we have left is to promote it,” Mr. Nearman said. “We need to make sure that more health care providers are forced to provide it.”

Despite its lack of abortion restrictions, four Planned Parenthood facilities have closed in Oregon in the past few years as the number of procedures continues to decline. In Oregon, the number of abortions dropped by 15 percent from 2011 to 2014, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Across the border in Northern California, three Planned Parenthood facilities closed June 30, part of a shutdown in which a total of 10 health care centers ceased operations in four other states: Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico and Wyoming.

As clinics close and clients dwindle — Planned Parenthood’s annual patient visits have dropped nationally in the past four years from 3 million to 2.4 million — the organization has fought to keep its role from becoming purely symbolic.

The downturn comes with Planned Parenthood’s annual half-billion dollars in federal funding in peril as President Trump and congressional Republicans ramp up calls to defund the 100-year-old organization.

Democratic state Rep. Pam Marsh said the Oregon bill “ensures that cost alone will never keep a woman from receiving services, regardless of citizenship status, ability to pay or gender identity,” but also sends a message to the Trump administration.

“The bill also plants a clear flag: Regardless of any possible federal action to come, the state of Oregon will protect reproductive health care rights for all residents,” she said in an op-ed.

The measure includes a religious exemption for Catholic-sponsored insurance company Providence Health Plans, but Republicans said they still expect the number of abortions to rise.

“Will House Bill 3391 increase or decrease the number of abortions in the state of Oregon? If it will decrease the number, then sign me up. But I’m afraid we all know that’s not the case,” Republican state Rep. Werner Reschke said during floor debate. “The number will inevitably increase.”

Democrats argued that the bill would save the taxpayers money by providing “no-cost contraception to 18,600 women in Oregon who lack that benefit,” thus reducing accidental pregnancies.

“Increasing access to contraception and pregnancy services in Oregon has been paying off by reducing unintended pregnancies,” Oregon Senate Democrats said in a statement. “The state’s abortion rate is nearly half what it was in recent decades, dropping from 15,700 in 1980 to 8,600 in 2015.”

Laurel Swerdlow, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon advocacy director, framed the issue as one of equal opportunity to a constitutionally guaranteed right.

“Rights don’t matter if you can’t access them,” Ms. Swerdlow said in a statement. “Every Oregonian — no matter where they live or how much money they make or who provides their health insurance — deserves access to the health care they need.”

To make good on Ms. Swerdlow’s claim that “who provides their health insurance” shouldn’t matter, the state will offer Providence Health’s customers a separate benefit giving them abortions and contraception for free.

Meanwhile, Liberty Pike, spokeswoman for Oregon Right to Life, called the bill’s passage upsetting and predicted that it would result in more late-term and sex-selection procedures.

“Oregon taxpayers already pay for almost 50 percent of abortions in the state of Oregon, and this bill will undoubtedly increase it,” she said in a video.

Gayle Atteberry, executive director of Oregon Right to Life, accused the Democratic majority of “working to reward one of their primary campaign supporters, Planned Parenthood, which stands to financially benefit from HB 3391-B.”

“This terrible legislation is just another example of how Oregon’s largest abortion provider’s only real concern is for their financial bottom line,” said Ms. Atteberry.

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