A bill mislabeled the “Health Care Freedom of Conscience Act” began its journey through the Montana legislature January 23rd. This is a bad bill, with the same malevolent repercussions as the so-called “Conscience” regulations put into effect at a federal level in the waning days of the Bush administration .
If House Bill 351 introduced by Wendy Warburton of Havre, is enacted it won’t matter to Montanans if the federal regulation is eventually reversed, we’ll have our own law “protecting” health care workers and facilities from any legal or disciplinary action if they refuse to perform a procedure or administer drugs based on their conscience. “Conscience” is defined in the bill “as the religious, moral, or ethical principles held by a health care provider or health care institution.”
We all know what this bill is really aimed at: limiting and complicating access to health care services of the most private and personal kinds. Section 2, Number 3 states, “The purpose is to protect as a basic civil right the right of all health care providers and health care institutions to decline to counsel, advise, prescribe, provide, perform, or assist in counseling, advising, prescribing, providing, or performing a health care service that violates their consciences. Health care services may include but are not limited to abortion, abortifacients, artificial birth control, artificial insemination, assisted reproduction, human cloning, euthanasia, human embryonic stem-cell research, fetal experimentation, physician-assisted suicide, and sterilization.”
The possibility for mayhem this bill opens up is endless. Is a health care worker a vegetarian for ethical reasons? If this bill passes he can refuse to serve patients meals that include meat. The worker is completely within his “rights.” Rushed to an emergency room needing an immediate blood transfusion? Oops! The doctor on duty is a Jehovah’s Witness. This bill would protect her “right” to refuse to order a life-saving transfusion based on her religious beliefs. Want a job at Planned Parenthood but don’t believe minors should have access to birth control? Planned Parenthood can’t use that “excuse” not to hire you. Discrimination in hiring based on “conscience” would be specifically prohibited.
HB 351 is nonsense. The fact that an elected official dreamed it up and it’s getting a hearing is scary. The highest calling for health care workers and facilities is to provide the best care legally possible. If a worker does not wish to be involved in contraceptive or end of life issues then they have no business working for a facility that does. End of story….I wish.