Religious Liberty & Conscience Protection Act
On 7/18/12, the Senate Health Policy Committee took testimony on S.B. 975, but no action was expected on the bill at that time. After legislative recesses for the summer and the October election, the committee took up the bill on 12/4/12, adopted an amended version of the bill and reported it to the Senate floor by a vote of 6-1. The full Senate approved the bill by a vote of 26-12 on 12/6/12.
The House Insurance Committee held a hearing and reported the bill to the House floor with additional amendments by a vote of 12-5 on 12/12/12. The House did not take up the bill in the final two days of the session, thus the bill "died" at the conclusion of the session. Sen. Moolenaar made clear his intent to reintroduce a new bill in the 2013-2014 session.
S.B. 975 was introduced on February 16, 2012 and referred to the Senate Committee on Health Policy.
S.B. 975 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. 975 is the revised version of the original prolife "conscientious objector" legislation which has been introduced several times in the last decade.