Abortion Rights Protesters on Bikes Will Denounce Providence at the Bridge Pedal

Providence, which is affiliated with the Catholic Church, does not cover the cost of abortions for private clients of its insurance plan.

On Sunday morning, thousands of cyclists will surge across the Fremont Bridge in an annual tradition known as the Providence Bridge Pedal. The upper deck of the Interstate 405 bridge will be closed to car traffic as biking families wheel over the Fremont and six other Willamette River crossings.

Among them will be abortion rights demonstrators. They’ll be protesting the event’s sponsor: Providence, the state’s largest health care system.

Providence, which is affiliated with the Catholic Church, does not cover the cost of abortions and a variety of other reproductive health services for private clients of its insurance plan, as WW has previously reported.

In 2017, Oregon lawmakers required all insurers to provide abortion coverage. But Providence successfully lobbied for an exemption. Its private insurance plan is the only one in Oregon not required to cover abortions and other reproductive health services, such as birth control and treatment for various sexual dysfunctions.

That dispensation takes on greater significance in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision overturning the federal right to an abortion. Oregon’s abortion protections remain among the strongest in the nation, but whether they’ll be further bolstered largely depends on the outcome of the November governor’s election.

Meanwhile, Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample has signaled his archdiocese will concede no ground. In a recent video, Sample said it was impossible to be both pro-choice and Catholic. “It’s like a person who claims to be vegan and then eats meat,” Sample said. “It’s incoherent.”

Sunday’s protest is organized by PDX for Reproductive Rights, a group that previously organized vigils following the Dobbs ruling. Protesters will be riding bikes with abortion rights signs and lining the Bridge Pedal route in T-shirts with slogans.

“People often don’t realize their Providence insurance won’t cover an abortion or a Providence health center won’t provide an abortion until they need care and are denied it,” says Dana Nestor, one of the people who will be protesting tomorrow. “Can you imagine how stressful it is to think you’ll be able to access essential healthcare only to be told you can’t, or that you’re going to have to pay for the entire procedure out-of-pocket? No corporation or CEO should be able to put religious views ahead of medical standards and patient care.”

Providence responded to WW’s request for comment with a statement. “Providence respects the right of all Oregonians to make their own health care decisions,” it says. “Like many providers, we elect not to offer every clinical service at our facilities. This allows us to focus on select areas of clinical excellence and community need. As a Catholic health care organization, we are guided by the Ethical and Religious Directives.”

The statement adds that Providence doesn’t fund advocacy groups on either side of the abortion issue, and doesn’t interfere with people seeking abortion services at other health care providers.

“When other organizations seek to limit our rights to offer those services that align with our Mission and values, Providence does advocate at the state and federal level to preserve our rights,” the statement continues. “While elective abortions are not performed in Providence facilities based on our belief that every life is sacred, we do not deny emergency care.”

The Bridge Pedal is now in its 26th year. The event is scheduled to start shortly after 7 am. The Fremont Bridge will close to car traffic at 6 am.