Gary Walker
Gary Walker
In April, a committee of the Oregon House of Representatives passed a bill that would direct the Oregon Health Authority to approve or deny mergers, acquisitions, and affiliations among larger hospitals, insurers and other health providers.

House Bill 2362 hit the inbox of the House Ways and Means Committee. There, it has sat stagnant, with no further consideration slated. Catholic leaders hope it stays that way.

Ostensibly, the bill is meant to keep health care costs lower and improve access. But abortion rights groups are chief backers of the proposed legislation, which seems designed to stall Oregon’s Catholic health care entities, especially Providence.

In February testimony before the House Committee on Health Care, NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon executive director Christel Allen urged passage of HB 2362, citing a 2012 merger between Providence and Swedish Health in Washington state. Swedish Health stopped providing abortions after the alliance, citing respect for Catholic values. For Allen and other pro-abortion activists, thwarting Providence and PeaceHealth has become a years-long campaign.

“Planned Parenthood is trying to pass HB 2362, a direct assault on our pro-life and faith-based health care providers,” said Lois Anderson, executive director of Oregon Right to Life. “If passed into law, HB 2362 would give the Oregon Health Authority the ability to coerce pro-life health care entities into providing abortions. OHA will allow them to reach more patients, but in exchange, they will be forced to provide abortions.”

Roger Martin, who represents the Oregon Catholic Conference at the state Capitol, calls the proposed legislation a “strong push” from pro-choice advocates to wall off Oregon’s permissive abortion laws from challenges. Martin predicts the bill is likely to become law at some point, but Providence is seeking changes.

Gary Walker, spokesman for Providence in Oregon, said HB 2362 would increase, not decrease, costs by adding a layer of bureaucracy. Walker added that the bill would diminish collaboration among care providers, possibly slowing advances in medicine. The successful vaccination project carried off by multiple providers at the Oregon Convention Center this year would have faced critical delays if a law like HB 2362 were in place, Walker said.

The proposed legislation was developed without input from the health care industry.

Walker calls the argument about access a false narrative. Oregon law ensures that networks of disparate providers exist so that if one clinic or hospital does not offer a certain service, another will,

“Affiliation and merger activity in the past 20 years does not provide any evidence that there is a pattern or practice of mergers and affiliations that reduce access to care,” he said, adding that Providence serves everyone who comes for care and does not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“We welcome all patients and provide each person with the full range of care available at our facilities,” Walker said. “Like many faith-based and secular hospitals, Providence does not offer every service or procedure that a patient may seek. Certain health care services require uniquely qualified, expert care that is not provided at our hospitals and some services are not provided in accordance with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.”