Religious Liberty & Conscience Protection Act
S.B. 136 was introduced on January 31, 2013 and referred to the Senate Committee on Health Policy. After several hearings were held on the bill, a slightly amended version of the bill was reported from the committee on March 21, 2013, by a vote of 5 to 1. A vote by the full Senate on the bill could come by mid-April.
S.B. 136 protects the conscience rights of individual health care providers, health facilities, and employers providing health care plans, enabling them to refuse participation in any medical procedure or research that violates their religious beliefs or moral convictions. These situations could include abortion, euthanasia, embryo research, cloning or genetic manipulation, providing insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, or dispensing such drugs.
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. For more information about President Obama's contraceptive mandate, see National Right to Life's synopsis.
S.B. 136 is the revised version of the original prolife "conscientious objector" legislation which has been introduced several times in the last decade-plus. For a review of action on nearly identical legislation in the 2011-2012 click here.