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ORTL Challenges Abortion Coverage Mandate

The 2020 Oregon March for Life proceeds around the Oregon Capitol. The crowd, estimated at nearly 2,000, gathered in front of the Oregon Capitol on Saturday, January 25, to remember the 61 million innocent lives lost to legal abortion since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. A variety of speakers addressed the crowd. They included Father Matt Libra, Vicar Respect Life Activities for the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon Right to Life President Melody Durrett, Marion County Commissioner Colm Willis, Senator Denyc Boles, Representative Bill Post, Karen Gaffney of the Karen Gaffney Foundation, and Pastor Dwain Tissell of Eastridge Church. Students from the Chesterton Academy of the Willamette Valley led the march.

On January 14, Oregon Right to Life (ORTL) filed a complaint with the U.S. Office for Civil Rights, challenging the abortion-related health insurance coverage mandated by the 2017 Oregon Reproductive Health Equity Act.

Oregon requires health benefit plans to provide coverage for abortions. The narrow, existing exceptions are not guaranteed and could be removed.

As a pro-life organization, we seek to have all that we say and do be consistent with our beliefs. These goals apply to the health insurance coverage we offer our employees. Oregon’s abortion coverage mandate, compelling us to include coverage of abortion and abortifacients in its insurance plan, unconstitutionally burdens us and violates the Weldon Amendment (“Weldon”).

Under Weldon, “[n]one of the funds made available in this Act may be made available to [a State if it] subjects any institutional or individual health care entity to discrimination on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.” As an employer, ORTL qualifies as a “health care entity.” ORTL objects to providing coverage for abortion and abortifacients. Therefore, under Weldon, as “discrimination” includes compelling objectors to include abortion coverage in health insurance plans, Oregon’s mandate violates Weldon.

Accordingly, we are seeking an exemption from mandated abortion coverage. Specifically, ORTL seeks an exemption that would authorize all insurers to offer and all employers to obtain health benefit plans excluding abortion coverage to which employers object.

Under Oregon law, such an exemption is permitted if “enforcement of [the Mandate] may adversely affect the allocation of federal funds to this state.” Here, federal funds are at issue under Weldon so an exemption is warranted.

James Bopp, Jr. of The Bopp Law Firm, P.C. and counsel for ORTL says: “Oregon’s mandate that pro-life groups cover abortion on demand in its employee health plans violates their conscience rights under the Weldon Amendment. Weldon requires states to protect such conscience rights or lose federal funds. Oregon receives lots of federal funding that it is putting at risk.”

“Oregon Right to Life exists to advocate for vulnerable human beings who are not protected under law,” explained Lois Anderson, ORTL executive director. “Under this mandate, we are literally being forced to violate our mission and very reason for existing.”

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