- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 2, 2017

An Oregon bill requiring health insurers to provide their customers with free abortions — including illegal immigrants — has advanced to the state Senate after winning approval in the state House with no Republican votes.

House Democrats pushed through the Reproductive Health Equity Act after a nearly two-hour debate over the bill, which would allocate $10.2 million for services related to contraception, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, including vasectomies and abortions, in the 2017-19 budget period.

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

“Affordable access to reproductive health care shouldn’t depend on who you are, where you live, or how much you earn,” tweeted Democratic state Rep. Julie Fahey after the vote.

Republicans tried but failed to block the measure with a motion to send it back to committee. The bill passed 33-23 Saturday as Democrats hurried to move H.B. 3391 before the end of the legislative session on July 10.

“Oregon is once again leading the way on health care!” said Oregon House Democrats in a statement after the vote.

“Even while the Trump Administration and Republicans in Congress are trying to strip away reproductive rights, Oregon is ensuring access regardless of income, citizenship status, gender identity, or type of insurance,” said the statement.

On the other side, Republican state Rep. Jodi Hack described the vote Saturday as “the saddest day I have experienced in the Oregon Legislature.”

The bill’s foes accused the Democratic majority of doing the bidding of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, which has seen its client visits drop nationwide from nearly 3 million to 2.4 million in about four years, according to the latest report released in May for fiscal 2015-16.

Democrats control both the Oregon House and Senate, while Democrat Kate Brown serves as governor.

“This highly contentious bill isn’t about health care or about people, it is a political gift card to Planned Parenthood,” said Jonathan Lockwood, communications director for the Senate Republican Caucus.

Gayle Atteberry, Oregon Right to Life executive director, accused Democrats of rewarding “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 in a statement. “The Oregon Health Authority testified [Thursday] that HB 3391-B will provide almost $500,000 more for abortions. Make no mistake: most of this money is going to Planned Parenthood.”

The Pro-Choice Coalition of Oregon, which includes Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon and NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, took credit for devising the bill and praised legislators for its passage.

“The Pro-Choice Coalition of Oregon, which developed the legislation over the past two years with input from community leaders and legislators, applauded the elected leaders who recognized the urgent need to safeguard reproductive freedom and fill gaps in coverage that benefit millions of Oregonians,” said the coalition in a statement after the vote.

The measure provides an abortion exemption for churches and religious nonprofits, notably Providence Health Plans, a Catholic-sponsored health-care group that covers 260,000 Oregonians and had threatened to exit the individual and group insurance markets if forced to cover the procedure.

Republicans called the exemption too narrow, while Oregon Right to Life said it came with it the creation of a program “that will provide free abortions to Providence plan enrollees,” but that the cost is still unknown, as is the impact on insurance costs.

“How much will insurance rates spike by forcing all insurance plans to cover abortions with no co-pays or deductibles?” asked the pro-life group.

Shortly before the passage of H.B. 3391, the House defeated a GOP-sponsored measure to ban late-term abortions “undertaken solely because of the known or suspected sex of the unborn child,” which is already prohibited in at least seven states.

“Oregon has arguably the most liberal abortion laws in the country,” said GOP state Rep. Sherrie Sprenger in a statement. “I am disappointed that our effort to add some common sense to our laws was rejected today.”

The social-justice group APANO touched off a brouhaha on social media by saying the organization “does not support Sex-selective Abortion Bans because they are based on RACIST assumptions about #AAPIs [Asian Americans Pacific Islanders].”

The group added that the ban could “open the door to even more restrictions on access to safe, legal reproductive health care.”

Tweeted Republican state Rep. Bill Post: “It’s a new weird sort of ‘social justice’ where only those we deem fit to live get social justice.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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