Senate Panel Defeats Amendment to Protect Pro-Life Medical Workers on Abortion

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 30, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Senate Panel Defeats Amendment to Protect Pro-Life Medical Workers on Abortion

by Steven Ertelt Editor
September 30
, 2009

Washington, DC ( — Shortly after the Senate Finance Committee voted against an amendment to remove the massive abortion subsidies from the Baucus health care bill, they rejected a second pro-life amendment. It would have offered protection for medical workers who don’t want to participate in or refer for abortions.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, offered the abortion funding limitation and Hatch also offered his conscience protection amendment, number 354, which mirrors the Hyde-Weldon appropriations language.

Hyde-Weldon is a federal law that President George W. Bush signed into law in December 2004 that protects hospitals, health insurance companies and medical professionals who don’t want to pay for or perform abortions.

The Hatch nondiscrimination amendment failed by a vote of 13-10 with pro-abortion Sen. Olympia Snow, a Maine Republican, siding with Democrats on the panel to oppose the measure.

Sen. Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, joined Republicans in supporting the amendment.

Without the Hatch amendment, the Baucus bill contains no conscience protections on abortions for employees who don’t want to be involved in them or refer for them.

A Senate committee has already approved the Kennedy health care bill, to which the Baucus measure is considered a possible alternative.

Americans United for Life, a prominent pro-life legal group, says the late senator added an amendment to that bill that "would ensure that no health care provider or entity is excluded from contracting with an insurance plan participating in the health care exchange on the basis that the provider or entity refuses to perform abortions if performing abortions would be contrary to the religious or moral beliefs of the individual or entity."

The Senate HELP committee adopted the amendment, but AUL says the scope of it is limited.

"It does not cover providers who refuse to pay for or refer patients for abortion services," Americans United for Life indicates.

"In addition, the amendment provides an exception for ‘cases of emergency,’ which is undefined and can be stretched to fit almost any situation, effectively stripping providers of any protection the amendment may have offered them," the group adds.

To correct the problems, pro-life Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, offered an amendment which would have made permanent the current regulations that protect pro-life medical workers.

It would have ensured health care providers are not forced to participate in abortions or discriminated against because they choose not to do abortions. The Coburn amendment was defeated with only one Democrat joining Republicans to support it.

On the House side, three pro-life members of Congress, Reps. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, Bart Stupak of Michigan, and Lee Terry of Nebraska, two Republicans and a Democrat, drafted a conscience clause which the Energy and Commerce Committee passed by voice vote.

AUL says the amendment "prohibit[s] discrimination against physicians, other health care professionals, hospitals, provider-sponsored organizations, health maintenance organization, and health insurance plans for refusing to provide, refer for, pay for or provide coverage for abortion."

During his health care speech last month, President Barack Obama told the nation he wants to ensure conscience protections for pro-life medical workers are in place in the health care bills in Congress.

Obama’s comments are contradictory in one way — his administration has already started the process of overturning new regulations President Bush put in place to better enforce conscience rights.

If Obama is true to his pledge, he and his administration will lobby the Senate to adopt conscience amendments when the bill hits the Senate floor or ask House and Senate leaders to keep the protections when the two chambers’ bills are merged.

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