Bill would require health plans to cover abortion

Nearly 70 Oregon advocates marched to beating drums to the Oregon State Capitol on Wednesday to rally for comprehensive coverage of women's reproductive health services. They hope that Senate Bill 894, which proponents say fill gaps in federal law and protect women against threats to weaken reproductive rights, will soon be scheduled for a hearing.

The bill would require public and private insurance providers to cover contraceptives, abortion, prenatal, postnatal and breast feeding assistance services. It would also require insurers to allow women to fill 12 months' worth of birth control at a time.

The comprehensive women's health bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, Rep. Val Hoyle, D-Junction City, Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland, and Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, among numerous others.

"Women's bodies are our choices," Steiner Hayward said in a speech to advocates Wednesday. "Our bodies are our bodies and it's not up to the government to tell us what to do with them."

She added that women should be able to control when and whether they become pregnant, and have access to resources that give them that control.

"Women deserve better," she chanted with the crowd.

Michele Stranger Hunter, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, said unequal access to reproductive health services disproportionately affect low-income, immigrant and other minority women.

Stranger Hunter said although the Affordable Care Act requires insurance carriers to cover birth control with no cost-sharing and without having to meet the deductibles first, there are transitional plans that still don't meet those requirements.

In addition, the health reform law doesn't guarantee abortion coverage, she said.

At a time when abortion rights are facing attacks in many states across the country, Oregon women need protection, Stranger Hunter said.

Liberty Pike, spokeswoman for Oregon Right To Life, said the anti-abortion group is against SB 894 because it would require religious organizations that are against abortion to provide that coverage for their employers.

"SB 894 would force church organizations to pay for abortions for their staff, basically," she said.

The bill would need to be scheduled for a work session in the Senate health care committee by April 10 in order to have a chance of passing this legislative session. However, the committee's chairwoman, Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, said the bill isn't ready for a hearing yet.

"If it goes before the committee now, it can't pass the way it is now," Monnes Anderson said. "We're just getting things ready."

Monnes Anderson is also one of the sponsors of the bill. She said she is allowing Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon to work with insurance carriers to amend the language. Once the bill is cleaned up, she said, she will talk to the Democratic caucus to make sure the it has the 16 votes needed to pass the Senate floor.

She lamented that the bill was introduced late in the session. The bill was introduced in late February and assigned to the health care committee March 6. Ideally, the work being done on it now would have been done in the interim, so that a clean bill could be introduced early in the session, she said.

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