Religious folks opposed Oregon's ultra-liberal new abortion law, but who were they?

I just returned from five days in Oregon, which can be a leafy, verdant paradise with gems such as Crater Lake, the Wallowa Mountains, Multnomah Falls, Mount Hood and a stunner of a Pacific Ocean coastline.

When in Oregon, of course, one reads the local news.

Right in the midst of several weeks of sunny weather (after a winter and spring of record-breaking rainfall), legislators were arguing in Salem (the state capital) over how abortions should be funded.

Let's look at the basic Associated Press report on this subject. I wonder: How far will we need to read into this story to find information on a rather obvious religion angle in this story?

SALEM, Ore. (AP) -- Insurance companies in Oregon would be required to cover abortions and other reproductive services at no cost to the patient regardless of income, citizenship status or gender identity under a measure approved Wednesday by lawmakers.
Oregon already has some of the most liberal abortion laws in the U.S., leaving out otherwise common requirements for waiting periods or spending limits on taxpayer funds.
The measure, which does offer some religious-based exemptions, comes as the federal government and other states are seeking restrictions on abortion services.

That second paragraph is an understatement, to say the least, as Oregon is the only state that has no restrictions on abortion. After explaining that the measure was in reaction to President Donald Trump’s attempts to repeal Obamacare,

In some states such as New York, abortions are cost-free if they’re deemed medically necessary. The Oregon bill is unique, however, in that patients would have access to the procedure for virtually any reason, at any time, including sex-selective and late-term abortions.
The bill would also allocate almost $500,000 over the next two years to expand cost-free reproductive health coverage, including abortions, to immigrants who are otherwise ineligible under the Oregon Health Plan -- the state’s Medicaid program that currently spends nearly $2 million a year to pay for roughly 3,500 abortions statewide.

Finally in the 13th paragraph after a quote from the Democrats:

The measure offers some religious-based exemptions, as dictated by federal law, which apply narrowly to churches and other religious nonprofits.

So what may those be? We’re not told. AP basically says: Nothing to see here. Moving on.

There’s a grumpy quote from the Republicans, then the piece ends. I turned to the Oregonian for more light. There I read:

The bill exempts religious employers and insurers who do not currently cover abortion, such as Providence Health & Services. It would require the Oregon Health Authority to create a program to provide no-cost abortions for individuals whose health plans don't cover the procedure.

Again, we don’t get any explanations. By the way, doesn't Providence claim that it's the state's largest health operation?

The Statesman-Journal in Salem concentrated on the civility of the debate in its opening paragraphs but it included more God-talk by the Republicans than did any other publication.

Republicans opposed the bill on religious and moral grounds.
“What about the rights of the unborn humans?” said Sen. Bill Hansell, R- Athena. “These individuals who are in the normal nine-month process of birth development; if government doesn’t protect these rights, who will?”
Knopp attempted to strip the abortion provision in the bill, saying he’d opposed abortion since he was a teenager. His voice quavered during his floor speech.
“The souls of 50 million babies in our country cry out for justice and I know that God hears them. The question is, colleagues, will we hear their cries for justice?” he said.  

Even though Oregon is up there among the country’s most unchurched states, three-quarters of the population is some variety of Christian. Why, I wondered, hadn’t anyone quoted Catholics or Mormons, which are the two largest Christian subsets? Wouldn't Archbishop Alexander Sample have had something to say about it?

I checked the Catholic Sentinel, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland for something on the legislation and found this piece, which had this interesting factoid:

Earlier, Providence Health System had threatened to exit the state’s insurance market, saying the religious exemptions did not go far enough. Though the bill’s handlers did increase exemptions, GOP lawmakers say the provisions still fall short.

However, it wasn’t until I read this Seattle Times piece on the bill that I realized Providence is a Catholic health system.

Oh well. No one else mentioned that helpful fact. A healthcare publication called The Lund Report that told more of the back story about Providence's threat. It was the most thorough coverage I've seen -- even though it plainly disagreed with the Catholics. 

Buried in this account by KTVZ-TV (out of Bend, Ore.), are what the limits to the religious exemptions actually are and how the GOP is already calling the bill an assault on religious liberty.

I credit the AP for doing a follow-up on Thursday about the lawsuits that may emanate from the bill. It also filled in some gaps from its earlier coverage.

The proposal also faced push-back from Providence, a Catholic-sponsored organization that operates eight local hospitals and currently covers 260,000 Oregonians. Providence had threatened to pull out of the Oregon insurance market, saying the bill's religious exemptions didn't go far enough.
The latest version approved Saturday was adjusted accordingly. But House Republicans argued the religious exemption is still too narrow and almost exclusively applies to churches and religious nonprofits.
"If an Oregon employer chooses not to provide abortion coverage, that does not mean an Oregon worker is going to be denied access to reproductive care," said Rep. Jodi Hack, a freshman Republican lawmaker. "Nothing prevents an Oregonian from seeking additional coverage if they feel the coverage options provided by their employer are inadequate."

The obvious question here is the Hobby Lobby case that went to the Supreme Court where justices decided in favor of private employers who wished to refuse to pay for birth control (and by extension, abortion) because of their religious beliefs. Will that apply to Oregon? When you have Slate rejoicing over the bill, you know there’s a national story in there and the nation hasn’t heard the last of it.

I just wish the locals could have done a better job of covering the religious aspects. Plus, does Oregon really want to become known as the state that allows sex-selection abortions? I'm waiting for the reporter who will draw attention to that angle.

Please respect our Commenting Policy