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Birth control coverage bill voted down.

Byline: David Steves The Register-Guard

SALEM - The House on Thursday turned down a proposal requiring that insurance companies include contraceptives in their prescription drug coverage, reflecting the volatility of abortion politics in the Legislature.

The 26-32 vote came after minority Democrats turned to a parliamentary maneuver to force a floor debate on the issue.

The effort to substitute the contraceptive coverage plan for a separate bill dealing with insurance regulation came as two similar proposals involving birth control coverage have languished without a vote in House and Senate committees.

Rep. Diane Rosenbaum, a Portland Democrat who led the push for the contraceptive-coverage vote, said that although none of the opponents made reference to the "pro-life/ pro-choice" divide of abortion politics, she was convinced that it was a big factor in the nearly party-line vote.

"I think the real opponent of this has always been the right to life movement," she said, adding that Republicans "were afraid" to vote for the proposal because they could end up facing an anti-abortion opponent in the next primary election.

Just as traditional abortion rights groups such as Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights League supported the birth-control legislation, Oregon Right to Life opposed it.

The group's director, Gayle Atteberry, said it doesn't oppose contraceptive coverage, but did object to the proposal before the House for two reasons:

It was so broadly worded that insurance companies could have been forced to include coverage for abortion services or the "morning after" pill, RU486, Atteberry said.

It did not include a "conscience clause" allowing religiously affiliated insurers, such as those with ties to the Catholic Church, to opt out of covering birth control because it violates a tenet of their faith.

Rosenbaum argued it was necessary to correct an imbalance in which a basic health cost for women - birth control - was excluded from many health plans, leaving it to women and their families to pay those expenses.

"It will ensure basic health care for the women of Oregon," she said. "We will prevent discrimination against the women. It will protect their families from the additional costs of having to pay out of pocket for these services."

Rosenbaum said the bill also would help Oregon employers avoid costly litigation that has cropped up nationally as women have sued on the grounds that excluding birth control from prescription drug coverage violates federal equal employment law.

Despite supporters' effort to paint the proposal broadly as a matter of common-sense fairness, the vote reflected partisan differences. The House's 25 Democrats were joined by Rep. Vicki Berger, R-Salem, in voting for the motion; all 32 no votes came from Republicans.

Opponents cited a range of reasons for rejecting the proposal. Rep. Pat Farr, R-Eugene, said that he supports the concept of requiring contraceptive coverage and was willing to sponsor a bill to do so - but that he couldn't vote for the version on the floor because it was so broadly worded that insurance policies could be forced to cover other types of prescriptions.

Rep. Betsy Close, R-Albany, objected on the grounds that the proposal was "a new health care mandate," which insurance companies almost always lobby against.

And Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, argued that the proposal included unrelated provisions that would have drastically increased the interest to be repaid on loans from whole life policies.

Although he didn't mention it during the debate, the pro-life/pro-choice politics behind the bill was a big reason Richardson was elected last year to the House.

He won the GOP nomination last year to run for his southern Oregon district after successfully challenging his Republican predecessor, Cheryl Walker of Murphy, because she'd angered pro-life voters by sponsoring a similar contraceptives bill in the 2001 session.

Richardson said that besides the insurance-policy loan angle, he objected to the bill on the grounds that insurance companies would be forced by the Legislature to cover certain procedures or types of prescriptions.

But Richardson said his pro-life views on abortion were not a factor in his vote.
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Title Annotation:The state House votes along party lines to kill a plan to make insurers pay the costs; Legislature
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 23, 2003
Previous Article:No easing of fire fears in Eastern Oregon.

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