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Residents flood Oregon public hearing to debate over abortion, gender-affirming bill

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An Oregon bill that would greatly expand access to reproductive health and gender-affirming care drew emotional testimony on Monday, mirroring the culture war debates over abortion, gender identity and parents’ rights that are playing out in state legislatures across the U.S.

The room at the state Capitol in Salem, where the public hearing was held, was packed to capacity and a long line of people snaked down the hallway. Dozens submitted written testimony and dozens more testified in person, with supporters describing abortion and gender-affirming care as life-saving and opponents taking issue with provisions that would make it easier for minors to access certain services without parental consent.

Abortion remains legal at all stages of pregnancy in Oregon and its state Medicaid program has covered certain gender-affirming care since 2015. But Democratic lawmakers said the measure was needed to push back against the flurry of anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ legislation moving through statehouses across the country.

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“Someone I know and love, someone you know and love, may need an abortion or gender-affirming care someday,” Democratic House Speaker Dan Rayfield testified. “People should have the right to make their own decisions on their own health care with medical professionals, without fear of harm.”

The bill would implement a wide-ranging series of measures, including shielding providers and patients from criminal and civil liability as states have moved to outlaw abortion following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade last year. It would also allow a person to bring a civil action in court against a public body for interfering with their reproductive health rights.

The bill would also prohibit medical licensing boards from suspending, revoking or refusing to grant a license to a provider because of a conviction or disciplinary action for providing reproductive or gender-affirming health care in states where that care is restricted.

People line up on March 20, 2023, outside a hearing room in the Oregon State Capital in Salem, where a public hearing was being held on a bill aiming to expand access to abortion and gender-affirming care.

People line up on March 20, 2023, outside a hearing room in the Oregon State Capital in Salem, where a public hearing was being held on a bill aiming to expand access to abortion and gender-affirming care. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky)

The parts of the bill that have proved to be the most contentious have to do with minors. Under the legislation, doctors would be allowed to provide reproductive health care information and services, including abortion, “to any person without regard to the age,” and would bar them in certain cases from disclosing that to parents.

Democratic state Sen. Kate Lieber, a chief sponsor of the bill, said this would help protect young people living in unsupportive families.

“LGBTQ youth in particular have a very high rate of suicide,” she testified. “It is really important to listen to the children who are telling us what they’re feeling and how they are being in this world.”

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Critics said this would exclude parents from key aspects of their child’s health care.

“One of the most beautiful relationships in the universe is a parent to a child,” Republican state Rep. Emily McIntire testified. “This bill goes to the very core of a family unit.”

The legislation would also require private insurance to cover gender-affirming care that is prescribed as medically necessary. In written testimony, some members of the public supporting this measure named it as especially critical for transgender people.

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“The fact that I could get gender-affirming care that was covered by insurance meant that I did not have to choose between necessary medical procedures, or risk bankruptcy or homelessness to be who I am,” said Oregon resident SueZeev Ranseen, who is transgender. “Without gender affirming care, I would not be alive.”

The bill would also make it a crime to block access to a health care facility, and require public universities and community colleges with health centers to provide emergency contraception and medication abortions.

Lawmakers will further discuss the bill and propose amendments during a House Committee on Behavioral Health and Health Care work session next week.

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