SALEM — A sweeping new bill passed by Oregon lawmakers will force taxpayers to assume some of the costs of abortions, even though many oppose the procedure, anti-abortion campaigners said Thursday as a legal expert predicted the measure will draw lawsuits.
The bill passed Wednesday by the Legislature requires insurance companies to cover abortions at no cost to the patient. People who have no insurance, including those in the country illegally, would be able to have costs paid by the state's Medicaid program.
Oregon already had some of the most liberal abortion laws in the country. The new measure was introduced in response to federal attempts to curtail reproductive services.
"Health care has been one of the biggest battlegrounds in the fight between federal and state sovereignty," said Bruce Howell, a professor who teaches health law at Willamette University College of Law. "I'm sure there will be lawsuits involving this."
He pointed out that the state's Medicaid program — administered by the Oregon Health Plan — is partially federally funded.
"If federal policy is not to allow federal funding of abortions, someone, somewhere, is going to file a lawsuit saying 'you can't use federal money for (abortions),'" Howell said.
Furthermore, Howell said, most Americans are insured through their employers, and most employer plans abide by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 and "do not have to listen to state law."
The bill was expected to be signed into law by Gov. Kate Brown, whose office exclaimed "Yes! Yes! Yes!" Thursday on Twitter, referring to the bill's passage.
Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon also praised the bill.
However, David Kilada, political director of Oregon Right to Life, said Thursday the measure will lead to an increase in abortions.
"We're concerned with the fact that it provides for free abortions for a whole new group of people and will result in more abortions, including late-term," Kilada said in his group's offices in a Salem suburb.
He said there were no immediate plans by Right to Life to sue but noted that insurance companies wanting to enter Oregon after 2017 might sue if they are locked out of the market because they don't cover abortions.
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.
As the Trump administration and some other states try to restrict abortion services, Oregon went in the other direction when the state Senate passed the bill 17-13, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed. The bill previously passed the House, mostly along party lines.
Kilada said the bill will force taxpayers to assume some of the cost, whether or not they oppose abortion.
"The bill expands abortions, and that's why we're against it," he said. "I think it makes it easier for a person to kill an unborn child."
The Oregon branch of the National Organization for Women said the bill establishes comprehensive coverage for reproductive health services, including family planning, abortion and postpartum care for all Oregonians, "regardless of income, citizenship status, gender identity or type of insurance."
"This legislation ensures that all Oregonians are able to decide if and when they have children based on what's best for them and their family's circumstances," the group said.
President Donald Trump earlier this year signed legislation allowing states to withhold federal family planning funds from Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. In May, the Texas Legislature approved new abortion limits.
Last month, a federal judge blocked parts of a new Indiana law that would make it tougher for girls under 18 to get an abortion without their parents' knowledge.
Oregon's legislation was introduced in March largely in response to Republican congressional leaders' earliest attempts to repeal former President Barack Obama's health care law, which includes minimum coverage requirements for birth control and other reproductive services.
The Oregon 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.