Oregon must strengthen its laws to protect doctors who perform abortions or gender-affirming care from lawsuits and lawsuits, a legislative task force recommended Wednesday.
It’s among several recommendations from the Task Force on Reproductive Health and Access to Care, which House Speaker Dan Rayfield convened this summer after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade and ended the nation’s abortion rights. The procedure remains legal in Oregon, but as Rayfield told a legislative committee on Wednesday, legal abortion does not guarantee care.
“The people of Oregon have made clear their support for making abortion and other care safe and accessible to all,” Rayfield said. “But I want to be clear: the right to access an abortion does not mean that abortion care is accessible.”
The task force found that three-quarters of Oregon counties have no abortion providers and that about 30% of hospital beds in the state are in Catholic hospitals that are exempt from abortion. provide abortions, contraceptives and other reproductive health care.
Eastern Oregon women who previously traveled to Boise or Meridian for abortions can no longer do so due to a recently enacted ban in Idaho. Oregon clinics are now facing increased demand from Oregon residents, as well as women from Idaho and other states where abortion is now banned or restricted.
“We now border one state, Idaho, with a near total ban on abortion,” Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum told the committee. “Abortion bans unquestionably put health, and therefore lives, at risk.”
The task force’s 22-page report, released Wednesday afternoon, calls for additional training for community health workers and updating state webpages to ensure people who need abortion or gender-affirming care know their rights and where they can get care.
And it is seeking an unspecified amount of statutory funding for incentives for health care providers, medical fellows and residents who must travel to Oregon for training. In this year’s legislative session, lawmakers approved $15 million for abortion care for Oregonians, residents and out-of-state providers.
Rep. Andrea Valderrama said the report highlights issues she sees every day in her East Portland community. Valderrama, a Democrat, said she initially ran for the David Douglas school district board because her district had some of the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections in the state. These rates dropped after the council adopted a policy to provide free contraceptives.
She said lawmakers must take action to ensure Oregonians have access to services in their communities. The report found that some Oregonians traveled up to 350 miles in the state to get abortions.
“What do these people do when they can’t afford gas to drive 350 miles or have kids at home who need it? As lawmakers, we cannot sit idly by,” Valderrama said.
The report also calls for greater state enforcement of reproductive health insurance mandates. The state’s 2017 Reproductive Health Equity Act requires that care, including abortion, screenings and contraception, be covered at no cost to patients, but a audit this summer found that many insurers were not complying with the law.
Some insurers are not required to do this. Federal employees and those covered by Indian Health Services or veterans are left on their own because the federal Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions.
Religious insurers such as Providence Health Plan are exempt, and some self-funded group plans do not need to provide coverage for abortion. A Republican majority on the Deschutes County Commission has repeatedly refused to add abortion coverage to its health plan for the county’s more than 1,000 employees.
The task force report calls for providing the Oregon Health Authority with funding and authority to provide expanded reproductive health care coverage to Oregonians who do not receive it through their insurer, and to put ending a loophole that allows local governments such as Deschutes County to avoid following the law. .
Several of the recommendations are intended to protect Oregon-based health care providers from legal repercussions from states that have banned abortion. This includes prohibiting medical malpractice insurers from denying or revoking coverage or imposing penalties or rate increases based on providing abortions or gender-affirming care in a manner that complies with the law. from Oregon.
The group recommended prohibiting Oregon’s licensing commissions from suspending health care providers’ licenses to provide lawful medical care in Oregon. He wants the Legislature to pass legislation codifying Governor Kate Brown’s pledge not to extradite people who have provided lawful health services that are criminalized in other states and bar future governors from having discretion. to extradite people in these cases.
Another recommended law would explicitly bar Oregon prosecutors from any abortion-related prosecution, including charges of termination of pregnancy or miscarriage or stillbirth. Oregon law now states that abortion is a right, but it does not explicitly prohibit lawsuits.
Rosenblum promised that the attorney general’s office would advocate for access to abortion and gender-affirming care.
“We at the Oregon Department of Justice will not stop standing up for your rights,” she said. “Access to abortion remains legal in Oregon. We won’t go back to the days when politicians told you what to do with your body.
Advocates are seeking an unspecified amount of state funding to help medical providers or abortion recipients pay legal fees if they are sued or sued by other states.
The group further recommended that the state enforce Oregon’s Unlawful Business Practices Act against so-called “crisis pregnancy centers,” which pose as reproductive health care centers but attempt to deter women to have abortions. Oregon has 44 crisis pregnancy centers and only 13 abortion clinics, according to the report.
Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Roseburg, questioned whether this app could violate the free speech rights of people who operate crisis pregnancy centers. The Oregon Department of Justice did not prosecute any center.
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