A bill to protect the conscience rights of health care providers was addressed in Lansing on March 21. The Senate Health Policy Committee, by a vote of 5-1, reported Senate Bill 136 to the full Senate for consideration. A time-frame for when the Senate will vote on SB 136 has not been set.
“The legislation is intended to help protect religious freedom, while still ensuring patients receive the best medical care available,” said state Sen. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, sponsor of the bill. He noted health care professionals would be required to provide patients with referrals to other doctors and nurses who would provide the service.
Testimony provided by Right to Life of Michigan made it clear that the bill is truly focused on protecting conscience rights and religious liberty.
The legislation covers three areas in which an individual or entity can assert a conscientious objection to a specific healthcare service. First, those who purchase or sell health insurance plans will be able to exclude coverage for an objectionable service, such as abortion procedures or abortion-inducing drugs. Second, a health facility such as a hospital or nursing home that objects to providing a certain service may refrain from providing that service. Third, an employee of a health facility may request reassignment to other duties if asked to perform or assist with an objectionable service.
The legislation creates a fair balance between the conscience rights of the employee and the needs of the employer. If the objectionable health care service or research activity comprises a substantial portion of the employee’s regular duties, the employer would not be required to develop an accommodation for the employee.
The bill also protects patients by affirming that health care providers and institutions may not refuse to provide a service based on the status of the patient or the patient’s ability to pay.
For over 30 years, Michigan’s current conscience protection law has enabled individual health care providers to refuse involvement in abortion procedures based on their beliefs and convictions. However, that law pertains only to performance of abortion. This bill will extend conscience protections beyond abortion to any medical procedure or medical research activity, and will cover all the parties involved in health care provision.
It is particularly important to establish broad conscience protections in Michigan law in light of the federal government’s efforts to mandate that all insurance plans offer contraception, which would include abortion-inducing drugs. Our faith-based health facilities are under attack, as are the many healthcare workers in Michigan who adhere to various faiths.
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The Legislature has recessed for a two-week spring break and will return to sessions on April 9. Take this opportunity to voice support for SB 136 with your Michigan senator while he or she is in your district.