Catholic Sentinel photo by John Kingery
Protesters speak out for universal health care on opening day of Oregon Legislature.
Catholic Sentinel photo by John Kingery
Protesters speak out for universal health care on opening day of Oregon Legislature.
During the current session of the Oregon Legislature, Catholic leaders in the state will be monitoring dignity of life issues and making sure poor people don’t get decimated in the budget battle.

Legislators have proposed three resolutions that, while they don’t create law, do voice a desire to keep abortion rights from being limited.

House Concurrent Resolution 1 is designed to thwart waiting periods for abortions and block required ultrasounds. The lead sponsor is Rep. Carolyn Tomei, D-Milwaukie.

House Concurrent Resolution 5 is a preemptive strike against any moves to limit abortion via the definition of rape. House Current Resolution 6 simply “reaffirms woman’s right to make reproductive decisions.” Those two resolutions were introduced by the House Interim Committee on the Judiciary, a panel now chaired by Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha.  

Msgr. Dennis O’Donovan, vicar general of the archdiocese, says the church will closely monitor the resolutions, but is glad they have no policy consequences. Concurrent resolutions are the same legislative vehicles used to honor distinguished citizens.

Lois Anderson, legislative director for Oregon Right to Life, says her organization wonders what sponsors of the resolutions might be planning. She suspects the goal might be getting vulnerable pro-life politicians on record with a vote.

Anderson and other pro-life leaders are anxiously awaiting a possible bill that would seek to regulate pregnancy aid centers almost out of existence. The idea surfaced and failed in past years.    

House Joint Resolution 1, by contrast to the concurrent resolutions, would refer the death penalty for a vote of the people. Catholic leaders in Oregon have spoken out for ending capital punishment, which Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict have taught is not necessary given modern means of incarceration.

Another moral issue facing Oregon lawmakers is the budget. Church leaders want to ensure the strength of the safety net for people who are poor.

“One of the big things for this session is money,” Msgr. O’Donovan says. “So often, the budget gets balanced on the backs of the vulnerable.”

On the Legislature’s opening day, Catholic activists were among 1,000 people who filled the steps of the Oregon Capitol asking for universal healthcare as a universal right. They hope Rep. Mike Dembrow, D-Portland, can succeed in convincing lawmakers to support a bill, even though passage is a long shot.

The Capitol steps were a sea of red from red-clad Oregonians who participated in the Health Care as Human Right rally.  Attendees rode buses or carpooled from Prineville, Ashland, Bandon, the mid Willamette valley, and Portland metropolitan area. The group included nurses, doctors, teachers, businessmen and retirees.   
“We must see health care and other issues through the lens of the gospel,” said Mary Sharon Moore, a Catholic author and spiritual director from Eugene. “Lack of health care is an urgent issue.”

Other Catholics on hand have experienced lack of health coverage first hand.

Dembrow’s Affordable Care Act for All Oregonians would provide comprehensive healthcare for all individuals living in Oregon.  It currently has 19 sponsors.

As he pointed to the Capitol, Dembrow exhorted the crowd, “The real work will be done outside of this building.”  The goal is to have a referendum placed before the voters in 2016.

Health care is an important issue for small businesses in Oregon. Lee Mercer, Small Main Street Alliance of Oregon, indicated his organization surveyed 350 business  this summer and early fall in rural Oregon. Eighty percent were unaware that the Oregon Health Insurance Exchange will start taking applications this year. Though they may want to, 86 percent of those employers do not provide health care for their employees. Six in 10 support a universal healthcare system, where employers are not solely responsible.

Universal access to health care is part of Catholic teaching.

In his 1963 encyclical Pacem en Terris,  Pope John XXIII  wrote, “Each man has the right to … medical care …the right to security in cases of sickness.”  

The Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 2288 states, “Society has a responsibility, as a matter of justice, to ensure that each person has the health care they need for their growth and flourishing”.   

Pope Benedict in November 2010 said, “Justice requires guaranteed universal access to health care.”
Also last week in the Oregon Legislature, Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem urged lawmakers to add $333 million to mental health and mental illness programs. “It’s game-changing time,” said Courtney, a Catholic. He floated the idea of raising beer and wine taxes to cover some of the cost. Mental health treatment has become a topic of interest since mass shootings at Clackamas Town Center and in a Connecticut school.

— John Kingery contributed to this report.