PORTLAND, Oregon — A bill designed to slow the advance of Catholic health care in Oregon passed the state Legislature at the eleventh hour.

The bill relating to health care providers, H.B. 2362, was approved 32-23 in the Oregon House June 25 and 16-12 in the Oregon Senate June 26, a day before the 2021 legislative session concluded.

It requires approval from state’s Department of Consumer and Business Services or Oregon Health Authority before mergers, acquisitions, contracts or affiliations involving larger health care entities can be undertaken.

Implicit but looming large was the aim of curbing Providence Health and Services, the largest health provider in Oregon. Because of Providence’s Catholic mission, it does not do abortions. Supporters of legal abortion have objected more as Providence has expanded.

The Oregon Catholic Conference opposed the bill, as did Providence. Gary Walker, spokesman for the health care provider, said it would foil collaboration and partnerships that are important for helping medicine improve.

The massive vaccine project the state carried off this year would have been delayed by such a law, Walker said.

Oregon Right to Life said the bill is an attempt by Gov. Kate Brown and other state leaders to force Providence and other religiously affiliated health providers to offer abortion or get sidelined by state regulators.

“This will give Gov. Brown’s pro-abortion administration more control over the business aspects of pro-life health care entities,” said Reagan Knopp, political director of Oregon Right to Life.

NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon lobbied strongly for the bill this spring.

Chief sponsors of the legislation were Democrats Rep. Andrea Salinas of Lake Oswego, Sen. Deb Patterson of Salem and Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward of Northwest Portland and Beaverton. All three received endorsements from NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon in 2020.

Steiner Hayward received a $1,000 campaign donation, the largest given by the organization.

In other health care news, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine received strong praise for his actions to uphold conscience protection for health care workers and patients.

On June 30, DeWine signed into law major state budget legislation that included broad medical conscience protections, despite being pressured by opponents of the conscience provisions to “line item” veto them.

“The law of the land in Ohio now fully protects the civil right of medical professionals to love and care for patients consistent with their moral, ethical, and religious convictions,” said Louis Brown Jr., executive director of the Christ Medicus Foundation, based in Michigan.

“The civil right of medical conscience is vital to ensuring that medical professionals are not coerced into performing procedures that they believe are unethical and harmful to patients,” he said in a July 1 statement.

The foundation is a Catholic nonprofit organization that defends religious freedom and builds Christ-centered Catholic health care.

The Philadelphia-based Catholic Medical Association, an organization of Catholic physicians and other Catholic health care professionals, likewise praised DeWine.

“Gov. DeWine should be commended for his commitment to dignified health care,” Dr. Michael Parker, the association’s president, said July 1. “His clear understanding that health care professionals must have the right to freedom of conscience is vital to ensuring the health and safety of our patients.”

“Conscience freedom is a civil right which must be protected so that medical professionals have the freedom to care for patients from a scientific, moral and ethical standpoint,” Parker added.

Brown said Ohio’s new medical conscience protections also are “key to maintaining a diverse health care industry and workforce” in a state “that welcomes medical professionals of faith instead of driving them out.”

The law “will help patients find medical professionals that respect their moral, ethical and religious beliefs,” he said.

In addition, Brown added, these protections “compliment federal laws that protect patients from unjust discrimination and that require hospitals to provide emergency medical treatment to patients.”

Langlois is managing editor of the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.