Flurry of bills would give providers conscientious objector rights

Lawmakers across the country are introducing legislation that would let healthcare workers refuse to participate in procedures or caregiving that violates their moral, ethical or religious values.

U.S. Reps. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) and John Fleming (R-La.) introduced the Health Care Conscience Rights Act on March 5. It since has drawn 66 co-sponsors. The House bill is "designed to protect the rights of pro-life employers, insurers and medical workers," CBN News reported.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, on Monday issued a letter supporting the measure, before being sequestered in the conclave to select a new pope. O'Malley said the bill would "help preserve the vitally important traditions of religious freedom and the right of conscience," and asked that it be included in the continuing resolution needed to fund the federal government after March 27, the Catholic News Service reported.

In Missouri, a similar measure received first-round House approval Monday with a 118-42 vote, the Associated Press reported. The legislation (HB 457) requires another vote before moving to the state Senate. Similar legislation stalled last year after initial House approval, according to the AP.

Meanwhile, the Arkansas state legislature is considering a similar bill, the Health Care Freedom of Conscience Act, KNWA-TV reported. The bill includes exceptions for emergencies.

In both cases, doctors, nurses, researchers and some other healthcare workers could not be discriminated against for refusing to partake in certain types of care. The Missouri bill specifies that workers would need to give reasonable notice in invoking their conscientious objections.

Procedures and research specified in the bills include abortion, sterilization for other than medical reasons, assisted reproduction, human embryonic stem-cell research and contraception. In Missouri, hospitals, clinics, and medical and nursing schools could refuse to perform certain procedures or conduct research in related areas, the AP reported.

The Missouri measure is supported by Republican House Speaker Tim Jones, who said the legislation protects workers' rights and has bipartisan support, according to the article.

Democratic legislators argued the measure would limit access to healthcare and discriminate against women, including rape victims requesting emergency contraception.

To learn more:
- see the CBN News report (includes video)
- read the Catholic News Service report
- read the AP report
- here's the KNWA-TV report