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SALEM — For Providence Health Plans, mandatory abortion coverage would determine whether the large company could provide health insurance in Oregon.

That’s what Michael Cotton, chief executive officer for Providence Health Plans, told the House Committee on Health Care in the Oregon State Legislature last month.

The statement came during a public hearing on House Bill 3391, which would require health insurers to cover abortion as a direct benefit.

“This would be considered material cooperation — and is a red line for Providence Health Plans that cannot be crossed,” Cotton said to the committee.

Supporters of the bill said that a religious exemption would protect Providence sufficiently. In his statement to the committee, Cotton disagreed, pointing out that the exemption relies on a federal amendment that must be approved each year.

The Oregon Catholic Conference agrees with Cotton.

“[House Bill] 3391 is an example of government attempting to force its will on the citizens of Oregon without regard for individual freedom,” said Todd Cooper, representative for the Oregon Catholic Conference. “Those who do not think it is right to kill an unborn child should not be forced by the state and by HB 3391 to violate their consciences.”

Cooper said the religious exception is too narrow and requires insurance companies to offer a separate and unique plan for churches that doesn’t include abortions. Cooper also said many Catholic and Christian agencies would not meet the criteria of the religious exception

The bill passed along party lines during a House Committee on Health Care work session April 14. It is now being sent to the legislative budgeting committee, Ways and Means.

During the work session for the bill, lawmakers said supporters of the measure were working with Providence Health Plans on a compormise and that will be explored in the Ways and Means Committee. Provdence Health Plans declined to comment.

“We’re extremely discouraged that this bill is moving through the process,” says Gayle Atteberry, executive director of Oregon Right to Life. “We’re extremely discouraged that many lawmakers think it’s good to require insurance companies to pay for abortions.”

Atteberry says her organization will do what it can to stop the bill.

“It’s a travesty what they are doing.”