Missouri Pro-Life Bill Protects Conscience Rights on Abortion

State   Joe Oertwerth   Jan 17, 2012   |   4:52PM    Jefferson City, MO

Missouri lawmakers have introduced legislation which would protect the conscience rights of health care workers and religiously-based health care institutions. The proposals would ensure that physicians and nurses would not face employment discrimination for refusing to participate in medical procedures which violate their religious beliefs.

The proposals, advanced by House Majority Leader Tim Jones of Eureka and Senator Scott Rupp of Wentzville, would strengthen Missouri’s conscience rights laws as they apply to abortion. Current Missouri law prohibits an employer from discriminating against employees because they object to participating in abortions. However, there are major loopholes in that law, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 1986.

The law does not apply if it would pose “an undue hardship on the conduct of a particular business or enterprise,” or if assistance in abortion is “a bona fide occupational qualification.” Those were the very reasons recently given by a New Jersey hospital for forcing a group of nurses to participate in abortions under threat of termination.

Current Missouri law does not provide any conscience protections for health care employees with regard to other medical procedures of moral concern outside of abortion. The proposed law would protect doctors and nurses from being involved against their will in additional areas of medical care, treatment, or procedures of moral consequence.

Such medical services include sterilization, in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, the prescribing or administration of abortion-inducing drugs or so-called “emergency contraception,” or the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration. Medical researchers would also be protected from being required to engage in fetal tissue research, fetal experimentation, human cloning, human embryonic stem-cell research, or human somatic cell nuclear transfer.

The proposed statute would extend conscience protections to a broad range of medical professionals including physicians, physician’s assistants, nurses, nurses’ aides, medical assistants, hospital employees, clinic employees, long-term care employees, counselors, social workers, medical researchers, medical or nursing school faculty or employees, and students or applicants for training in any program in the health care professions.

Such medical professionals would be protected against any form of adverse employment action due to the exercise of their conscience rights. These include termination, suspension, demotion, reduction of wages or benefits, refusal of staff privileges, refusal of board certification, loss of career specialty, or any other penalty or disciplinary or retaliatory action.

The legislation filed by Representative Jones and Senator Rupp would also protect the conscience rights of health care institutions that object to providing certain medical procedures. Such institutions would not be civilly, criminally, or administratively liable for declining to provide a medical service so long as they provide a consent form to be signed by a patient before admission.

State authorities would not be allowed to discriminate against such institutions because such medical services are contrary to that institution’s moral precepts. An institution’s conscience would be defined by its moral, religious, or ethical guidelines, mission statement, constitution, bylaws, or articles of incorporation.

The issue of health care conscience rights has received major national attention over the last few years. President George W. Bush implemented comprehensive regulations enforcing conscience rights for medical professionals in the waning days of his Administration. Regrettably, President Obama revoked those regulations earlier this year except as they apply to abortion.

Dr. David Stevens, President of the Christian Medical and Dental Association, says that Christian health care practitioners face moral dilemmas in the workplace on a regular basis. Stevens says that 40 percent of the organization’s members say they have been pressured or discriminated against because of their pro-life convictions. Stevens reports that a nationwide poll of their members revealed that nine out of ten faith-based physicians would cease practicing medicine rather than be forced to violate their moral conscience.

The health care conscience legislation was developed and advanced by the Missouri Family Policy Council in concert with the Missouri Catholic Conference. The legislation follows a model recommended by Americans United for Life. We urge you to pray for our legislators as they debate this issue of great concern to the Christian community during this legislative session over the coming months.

LifeNews.com Note:  Joe Oertwerth writes for the Missouri Family Policy Council.