In December, the Republican dominated Michigan Senate slammed through a bill that would have allowed medical professionals to deny care to patients for religious reasons. The bill wound up going nowhere in the House and died after the legislative session ended. But now, a similar bill is once again making it’s way to the Senate floor for a vote.
The Detroit News reports that the Michigan Senate Health Policy Committee passed a “medical conscience” bill on Thursday “allowing health care workers to opt out of treatments that violate their personal beliefs and employers to bypass the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.”
The bill allows doctors and nurses to refuse “prescribing medical marijuana, dispensing the “morning-after” pill to prevent pregnancy or complying with a family’s decision to disconnect equipment that’s keeping alive a terminally ill patient.” But that’s not all. Planned Parenthood told the Detroit News that “the bill would allow employers, health care facilities and insurance companies to deny access to abortion as well as any health care service including birth control, HIV/AIDS treatment and vaccines.”
In short, this bill may be, by far, the most extreme legislation of its kind. Republicans, as usual, are claiming that the bill is about protecting religious freedom without interfering with patient care, but if this bill is so great for health care, why is it opposed by so many health and medical organizations? In addition to Planned Parenthood, other groups opposing the bill include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Michigan Psychiatric Association, the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, and the Michigan Disability Rights Association, marking a clear split between health care organizations and conservative lawmakers.
Clearly, this bill isn’t a good thing for people who need medical care. Women who are raped could be denied emergency contraception. People who are afflicted with HIV could be denied medical care. Women with ectopic pregnancies could be denied care. Patients who seek treatment of an STD could be refused help. Women who want contraception to protect themselves during sex could be denied that protection by their doctors. LGBT patients could be turned away if a doctor disapproves of their sexual preference. Babies could be denied vaccines. The list goes on and on. And all a doctor needs to do is claim a religious objection.
Denials of medical care could be especially harsh if patients live in a rural area with one health care provider. Patients could literally be forced to travel a long distance to find a health provider willing to treat them. Democratic Senator Rebekah Warren sought to prevent this kind of situation and others from occurring by offering three amendments to the bill that would “require health care professionals and institutions to post notices of the services they wouldn’t provide; prohibit the objection from being asserted if there were no other medical facilities available within 25 miles, and strengthen the bill’s language that would require medical institutions and professionals to provide health care in emergency situations.” All of these amendments were defeated by Republicans.
It gets worse. If the Michigan Catholic Conference has its way, the bill will also allow employers and insurance companies to deny women contraception coverage. The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, mandates contraception coverage for women. The Supreme Court has already ruled the landmark health care law constitutional. The Michigan bill would be a direct challenge to the law and the ruling, both of which are opposed by the Conference.
Michigan isn’t the only state trying to legalize religious discrimination against patients. Tennessee is considering a bill that would allow counselors to refuse counseling services for religious reasons. Kansas has already passed a bill allowing pharmacists and doctors to deny women contraception. And a Missouri law that allowed employers to deny women contraception was recently struck down by a federal judge.
These ‘conscience clause’ bills are a serious threat to doctor-patient relationships, medicine, privacy, and the religious liberty of the patients. They legalize discrimination and allow employers and health professionals to hide behind their Bibles instead of doing what is right for employee and patients. These bills undoubtedly allow this discrimination by Christians and Christians alone. Because we all know that if a Muslim doctor or Muslim employer denied a medical service to a white Christian male for religious reasons, Republicans would be the first to cry foul and introduce legislation to prevent such a thing. These bills are a clear abuse of religion.