A welcome sign in the Senate at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. (Amanda Loman/Oregon Capital Chronicle)
About 150 physicians oppose watering down a bill on abortion rights and gender-affirming care that is at the heart of the Senate walkout and currently the subject of intense negotiations.
Republicans have stalled the Senate by walking out since May 3, partly over House Bill 2002 on abortion, gender-affirming care and other reproductive rights. Democrats have said it is one of their priorities. OPB reported Monday, and the Capital Chronicle confirmed, that Democrats are considering softening language that would allow a child of any age to receive an abortion without parental consent. That provision is one that the physicians – “a group of pediatricians, obstetricians and family medicine doctors from across the state” – said should stay in the bill in a letter sent to all lawmakers at the beginning of the month.
The letter, from physicians in La Grande to Portland and Corvallis to Medford, said the bill protects the ability of providers to give confidential abortion care to pre-teens and adolescents, and especially for those who’ve been sexually assaulted or abused.
“As providers, we believe young people deserve compassion, understanding and support during what could be a defining moment in their life,” the letter said.
The physicians said most children involve their parents in their decision to seek an abortion and that providers always try to involve parents when it’s safe, but they said those protections are needed for young people who could be harmed by parental notification.
“Requiring parental involvement could put young people who are victims of sexual abuse in harm’s way and prevent them from receiving the timely and critical care they need, resulting in psychological harm,” the letter said. “It is also important that minors who are pregnant receive immediate care without unnecessary barriers due to the physical toll pregnancy takes on their bodies.”
Under Oregon law, anyone 15 and older has the right to obtain an abortion without parental consent. House Bill 2002 would allow a child of any age to seek an abortion on their own.
OPB reported that Democrats are moving towards changing the language, allowing a health care provider to override the need for parental consent in cases in which the child otherwise could face harm. It also reported that Democrats would kill a provision in the bill allowing abortion services on college campuses and in rural parts of the state.
The physicians indicating they would not support that change, praising the provisions.
“We know not all students can afford this care, and many are forced to go off-campus to receive care every month, inconveniencing students and interfering with their coursework,” the letter said. “The bill also closes gaps in care that young people in rural communities experience.”
The physicians said that in the rare instances when it’s not safe for the child to alert their parents of the need for an abortion, they are instructed by a guideline, or standard of care, to involve a trusted adult.
“Health care providers are trained to screen carefully and take action when there are any signs or history of abuse, neglect, trafficking or sexual violence,” the letter said. “These are very difficult circumstances that licensed health care professionals are equipped to navigate with the health and safety of their young patient in mind.”
Republicans Republican lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, have said in abuse cases they would prefer involving a judge making the decision about parental notification. The physicians, however, said they they oppose involving judicial involvement.
“To leave a decision so significant, and, in many cases, life-saving, up to the whims of a judge rather than a trusted medical provider and their patient is downright cruel,” the letter said “This is not a viable alternative, as it limits providers’ ability to deliver timely care.”
Rumors had circulated earlier that Democrats were considering setting up judicial involvement in cases of children younger than 15 to appease Republican concerns.
Reporter Ben Botkin contributed to this story.
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