Guest Blog by Suzanna Larkin, T ’21

Oregon, my home state, is a unique champion in women’s right to abortion. While more than 400 abortion restrictions have passed in 33 states in the past 7 years, Oregon remains a key state in support for reproductive health rights. It was the first state to allow pharmacists to prescribe birth control directly to women in 2015. More recently, Governor Kate Brown signed the Reproductive Health Equity Act in August 2017, which expands coverage of abortion and other reproductive health services to thousands of Oregonians by allocating nearly $500,000 of Oregon’s general fund to expand cost-free reproductive and abortion services for those who are ineligible for Medicaid. It also requires all private insurance companies to cover abortions for free.

There is one caveat to this legislation: Providence Health Plan, a large health insurance provider in Oregon, is insurer exempt from providing abortion services—the only insurance provider in the state with an exemption. This is because Providence Health Plan is a Catholic-affiliated insurer and operates under the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which prohibits providing abortion services. Providence Health Plan won exemption from this legislation after threatening to leave the Oregon insurance market.

Further steps are being taken to attempt to restrict abortion services in the state. Measure 106, appearing on the November ballots, would prohibit state funds from being used on abortions in all cases except those required by the federal law or which are medically necessary. It would also prevent abortion coverage of state and public workers. The midterm elections will be a pivotal moment in politics, but it is critical that abortion services remain equally accessible for all Oregonian women.

This is another example of the importance of understanding not just the highly publicized races for the House, Senate and State House, but of knowing what ballot measures may have significant consequences. West Virginia and Alabama also have proposed legislation to limit abortion rights on the ballot tomorrow. Despite the overwhelming support for a woman’s right to choose and ensuring access among Americans, challenges continue to appear at the state level. Voter awareness and participation will be crucial to making sure the legislation reflects the will of the electorate!

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