Missouri bill would let health providers opt out of more reproductive services

 

The Kansas City Star

Laws allowing health care workers to refuse to participate in an abortion have been on the books for decades.

Missouri legislators, however, don’t think they go far enough.

They want to expand those laws to allow medical professionals to opt out of providing birth control, sterilization and assisted reproduction services and stem cell research. They would also be able to deny referrals for care.

Under legislation that could come up for a vote in the Missouri House as early as today, health care providers would be shielded from punishment for refusing to provide this type of care if it violates their religious or moral principles.

“This bill provides workers with a shield to allow them to exercise their religious beliefs, which are sacrosanct in both our state and federal constitution,” said House Speaker Tim Jones, a Eureka Republican sponsoring the measure.

The proposal alarms critics, who denounce it as a potentially deadly change to health care policy. The bill is too broad, they complain, and sacrifices the health of women to the religious beliefs of medical providers.

“Medicine is not supposed to be about the values of the physician or the institution,” said Ed Weisbart, a family physician from St. Louis. “It’s supposed to be about the values of the patient. Period.”

Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision legalizing abortion, state governments around the country began enacting laws to allow health care workers and the institutions they work for to refuse to provide abortions without facing legal, financial or professional consequences.

According to the reproductive health research organization the Guttmacher Institute, 46 states — including Missouri and Kansas — allow health care providers to refuse to provide abortion services. Thirteen states take it a step further and allow refusal of services related to contraception, and 18 extend it to sterilization services.

Last year, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law a bill allowing pharmacists to refuse to provide drugs they believe might cause an abortion.

The Missouri legislation would prevent a health care worker or institution that refuses to participate in procedures from being punished.

The right to refuse care would not apply to medical emergencies, Jones said. Employees would have to provide reasonable notice to their employers of their moral objections before refusing to participate in procedures or counseling they find offensive.

“An employee cannot use the surprise tactic and suddenly wake up one day and proclaim a moral objection,” Jones said.

But Daniel Landon, a lobbyist for the Missouri Hospital Association, questioned what “reasonable notice” in such situations might be.

“It is unclear how a hospital human resources department would know whether that applies to one of their employees without diving into their private religious life in ways that many of us would be uncomfortable with,” Landon said.

Health care institutions have a duty to ensure that patients receive accurate information and appropriate care, said Michelle Trupiano, public affairs manager for Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri.

Failure to provide that care jeopardizes patient health, she said, even in situations that may not initially be considered life-threatening.

“A woman with an ectopic pregnancy that isn’t considered life-threatening could be denied care, including a referral as to where to receive care, until she comes back so sick that her life is in danger,” Trupiano said.

Rape survivors could be refused information and access to emergency contraception, Trupiano said, which would deny them “the minimum standard of care determined by leading health care organizations such as the American Medical Association.”

“That is unconscionable.”

Weisbart, the St. Louis doctor, said it would also violate “the core ethical basis of medicine.”

“This bill would protect my right to not tell (a patient) about emergency contraception,” he said. “When did that become my right? What happened to her right to know about her legal and medically appropriate options? When did the moral values of the physician become more important than those of our patients?”

Anyone choosing to be a doctor is promising to “provide the best medicine available,” Weisbart said.

Supporters of the bill counter that health care providers should not be forced to choose between their personal convictions and their professional career. Joe Ortwerth, executive director of Missouri Family Policy Council, said most people go into the medical profession out of a desire to “foster human life.”

“They take seriously the credo to do no harm,” Ortwerth said. “Unfortunately, there are certain circumstances where they are asked to potentially do harm to human life and go against the values and beliefs they hold.”

Rep. David Wood, a Versailles Republican, said if a doctor or facility is unable to provide the requested care, “there’s nothing stopping a patient, if it’s not an emergency, from going to another hospital.”

That’s only true, Trupiano said, if the patient doesn’t live in a rural area where there are no other options and has adequate transportation.

Despite the opposition, most expect the bill will make its way quickly through the House and over to the Senate, where a similar bill has been filed by Sen. Scott Rupp, a Wentzville Republican.

The legislation is “near and dear to me,” Jones said, which is why it is one of only three bills he has agreed to sponsor so far this year.

“When people are faced with situations that fly in the face of their religious convictions,” Jones said, “I think they should be protected.”

Read more Politics Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
FILE - This Jan. 9, 2009, file photo shows equipment inside a pilot plant in Scotland, S.D., that turns corn cob into cellulosic ethanol, a precursor to a commercial-scale biorefinery planned for Emmetsburg, Iowa. Biofuels made from corn leftovers after harvest are worse than gasoline for global warming in the short term, challenging the Obama administration's conclusions that they are a cleaner oil alternative from the start and will help climate change.

    Study: Fuels from corn waste not better than gas

    Biofuels made from the leftovers of harvested corn plants are worse than gasoline for global warming in the short term, a study shows, challenging the Obama administration's conclusions that they are a much cleaner oil alternative and will help combat climate change.

  •  
In this March 19, 2014 photo, Oregon Republican Senate candidate, State Rep. Jason Conger, right, speaks as fellow candidate Portland lawyer Tim Crawley, looks on, during a candidate forum in Lake Oswego, Ore. Republicans are making a bold play for a U.S. Senate seat in Oregon, a reliably Democratic state that hasn't elected a Republican to a statewide office in more than a decade. Republicans think they've found the right candidate in Monica Wehby, a children's brain surgeon who's raised more than $1 million and put her early opposition to the president's health law at the center of her campaign to help her party regain a Senate majority.

    GOP making bold play for US Senate seat in Oregon

    The GOP is making a bold play for a U.S. Senate seat in reliably Democratic Oregon, where a Republican hasn't been elected to a statewide office in more than a decade.

  •  
FILE - This March 14, 2013 file photo shows House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., and House Democratic leaders speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. The House Republicans’ campaign committee raised almost $10 million in March and has $31.2 million banked to defend the party’s majority, according to financial reports filed Sunday. The National Republican Congressional Committee’s $21.2 million fundraising haul in January, February and March gave the group its best first-quarter showing since 2003. It also puts the committee roughly $8 million ahead of its fundraising at this point in 2012. From left to right are Democratic Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel, D-N.Y., House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, D-Calif.

    GOP campaign committee has $31M to hold House

    The House Republican campaign committee raised almost $10 million in March and has $31.2 million banked to defend the party's majority, according to financial reports filed Sunday.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category