Oregon governor expands abortion, reproductive coverage

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SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday signed into law a bill expanding coverage on abortions and other reproductive services to thousands of Oregonians, regardless of income, citizenship status or gender identity. Proponents called it America's most progressive reproductive health policy.

The Pro-Choice Coalition of Oregon said it is the first legislation in the United States to comprehensively address systemic barriers to accessing reproductive health care. Chris Pair, Brown's press secretary, confirmed Brown signed the bill Tuesday.

Advocates say the Reproductive Health Equity Act does three things. It ensures that abortion remains legal in Oregon, even if Roe V. Wade is overturned. It ensures that no-cost contraception is available to Oregonians, even if the Affordable Care Act is abolished. Those protections are codified into state law. Lastly, it ensures that all Oregonians have access to a full range of reproductive services regardless of immigration status, gender identity and income. Previously, those groups had trouble getting access to care.

"It's not enough to just not have legal restrictions on abortion. That doesn't mean that people have access to both abortion and reproductive health care services. People can face barriers based on income, gender identity, based on citizenship status. This bill is aimed at ensuring access to a range of folks," said Kimbely McCullough, policy director at ACLU of Oregon.

Dr. Maria Rodriguez, an OBGYN at Oregon Health and Science University, testified before Congress in support of the bill. She says the bill will have perhaps the biggest effect on the nearly 50,000 women in Oregon who previously could not get reproductive care, other than for delivery.

Opponents have noted it will force taxpayers, even those who object morally to abortions, to assume some of the costs.

"Brown has enshrined into state law forced abortion funding, including for illegal aliens, even late-term and sex-selective abortions," Republican state Sens. Kim Thatcher and Dennis Linthicum said in a joint statement. Linthicum predicted lawsuits will be filed over the issue.

Oregon's legislation was introduced largely in response to Republican congressional attempts to repeal former President Barack Obama's health care law, which includes minimum coverage requirements for reproductive services.

The law allocates almost $500,000 from Oregon's general fund over the next two years to expand cost-free reproductive health coverage, including abortions, to immigrants who are otherwise ineligible under the state's Medicaid program, which currently spends nearly $2 million a year to pay for roughly 3,500 abortions statewide.

The bill passed in July by the Legislature requires insurance companies to cover abortions at no cost to the patient. The voting was generally along party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.

Two other states, California and New York, require all private health insurance plans to cover abortion.

The Pro-Choice Coalition of Oregon said the state is also the first to codify no-cost abortion coverage in state statute, the coalition said.

Laurel Swerdlow, Advocacy Director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, which belongs to the coalition, said "Oregonians don't want reproductive health care attacked."

Under the bill, insurers would be prohibited from shifting costs from those mandates to enrollees' deductibles, coinsurance or copayments, although the measure offers some religious-based exemptions.

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