Missouri Legislature Advances Conscience Rights Bills
Committees in the Missouri House and Senate have advanced legislation to protect the conscience rights of health care employees in Missouri hospitals and clinics.
The House Health Care Policy Committee has approved legislation sponsored by Representative Tim Jones of Eureka. The Senate Small Business, Insurance, and Industry Committee has endorsed identical legislation sponsored by Senator Scott Rupp of Wentzville.
The bills provide that doctors, nurses, medical students, and other medical professionals cannot be forced to participate in specified medical procedures or research that violate his or her conscience.
Those procedures include abortion, abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, sterilization, and assisted reproduction. Areas of research covered by the bill include human cloning, embryonic stem-cell research, fetal tissue research, and fetal experimentation.
Under the bill, no employee could be subject to employment discrimination for refusing to participate in activity that violates his or her conscience. Discrimination would encompass termination, suspension, demotion, reduction in pay or benefits, loss of staff privileges, or loss of career specialty.
The bill also provides that no health care institution can be required to offer or participate in medical procedures or research that violate its religious, moral, or ethical guidelines.
Missouri currently has a law protecting health care conscience rights as they apply to surgical abortion. However, the current statute exempts employers who can claim that compliance is an undue hardship or that performing abortions is a bona fide occupational qualification. Those were the very two reasons recently cited by a New Jersey hospital which attempted to force nurses to perform abortions over their objections.
The bills filed by Representative Jones and Senator Rupp were developed by the Missouri Family Policy Council in collaboration with the Missouri Catholic Conference.
Federal Court Scores Victory for Pharmacy Conscience Rights
A federal judge has ruled that the State of Washington cannot force pharmacies to dispense abortifacient drugs. U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton struck down regulations of the Washington Board of Pharmacy that required all pharmacies to stock and sell so-called "emergency contraceptives" regardless of their religious objections.
The controversy began when Kevin Storman, the owner of Ralph's Thriftway, made the decision not to stock so-called "morning-after pills" because of their abortifacient qualities. Pro-abortion activists picketed his store in response and filed a complaint with the Washington Board of Pharmacy. That board had issued a rule in 2007 that all pharmacies in Washington State must stock any drug demanded by their customers.
The Alliance Defense Fund filed suit on behalf on Storman and two other pharmacy owners, asserting that their First Amendment rights to the free exercise of their religion had been violated.
Judge Leighton concluded that the state's regulatory scheme was a "religious gerrymander," and had been designed to coerce religious objectors to stock and dispense Plan B. Judge Leighton stated that the evidence showed there was no problem with access to "emergency contraceptives" and that the pharmacy owners had the right to "refrain from taking human life."
In his decision, Judge Leighton also found that the pharmacy regulations were politically motivated. The opinion states that the establishment of the regulations was "a highly political affair, driven largely by Governor [Christine Gregoire] and Planned Parenthood."
The Missouri House is considering legislation sponsored by Representative David Sater of Cassville which would protect the conscience rights of pharmacy owners in the State of Missouri. Sater's bill has been recommended by the House Health Care Policy Committee, and sent on for debate by the full House. It was approved last year by the House, but failed to win passage in the Missouri Senate.
U.S. Senate Votes Down Legislation to Block Abortion Drug Mandate
The United States Senate has voted to block legislation which would have rescinded the Obama Administration's abortion drug mandate. The Senate rejected an amendment offered by Senator Roy Blunt which would have exempted religious organizations from including contraceptive and abortion drug coverage in their health insurance plans.
The Senate voted 51-48 to kill Senator Blunt's legislation, known as the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill supported President Obama's contraceptive mandate by voting to table, and thus end debate, on Blunt's proposal.
Senator Blunt's amendment would have provided that no health plan would have been required to include items or services in its "essential benefits package" which are "contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan."
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recently announced that virtually all health insurance plans in the United States must include contraceptives in their "preventative services benefits," including all contraceptive drugs and devices approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Contraceptives endorsed by the FDA include the abortifacient drugs Ella and Plan B.
The Obama Administration provided a narrow exemption from the law for organized churches, which will take effect August 1st. However, all other religious organizations such as hospitals, schools, charities, and parachurch ministries will be required to comply with the law by August 1, 2013.
The new regulation means that Catholic institutions will be compelled to incorporate drugs and devices that contradict their doctrinal teachings in the health insurance coverage they provide their employees. It is likely that Catholic institutions will eliminate group health insurance plans for their employees. Otherwise, they will be required to pay fines of $100 per day per employee. The House Energy and Commerce Committee estimated that a hospital with 100 employees could face an annual fine of $3.65 million.
"What President Obama doesn't seem to understand is that this debate is not about cost," says Senator Blunt. "Nor is this debate about contraception. It's about faith and who controls the religious views of faith-based institutions. Based on his statements and recent actions, it's clear that President Obama believes he should have that control. Our Constitution says otherwise."
During debate on the Senate floor, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the new abortion drug mandate would "make it impossible, for the first time, for religious institutions to practice what they preach...The Obama Administration wants to be the ones to tell religious institutions what their core mission is. This isn't a compromise. It's a government takeover."
Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah says the contraceptive edict is one more example of the abusive nature of President Obama's health care legislation. "Our Bill of Rights has been subordinated to the President's desire to micromanage the nation's health care system. Those of you who vote against this amendment are playing with fire."
And the fire is spreading. The National Clergy Council has declared a "state of emergency" for churches in response to the contraceptive decree. "The real issue here is not birth control. The real issue is religious liberty and freedom of conscience," says Norm Lund of the Clergy Council. "It's the freedom of individuals and their churches to determine their own moral views about contraception and abortion."
"Religious liberty is a sacred right," Lund added. "It's a the heart of the First Amendment. It's at the heart of what our ancestors have died for. We feel a conviction that it's time to stand up to government and say no."
Cardinal Francis George, the Archbishop of Chicago, has warned that Catholic hospitals across the country may be forced to close in the next two years if the contraceptive and abortion drug mandate is not withdrawn. Cardinal George says that Catholic hospitals and institutions have four choices: 1) abandon their religious convictions; 2) pay exorbitant and punitive fines; 3) sell their institutions to non-Catholic entitites; or 4) shut down.
"The Catholic Church would love to have the separation of church and state we thought we enjoyed just a few months ago, when we were free to run Catholic institutions in conformity with the demands of the Catholic faith, when the government couldn't tell us which of our ministries are Catholic and which are not, when the protected rather than crushed conscience," Cardinal George commented.
"Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union," George continued. "The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship--no schools, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice, and the works of mercy that flow from a living faith. All of these were co-opted by the government. We fought a long cold war to defeat that vision of society."
"The state is now making itself into a church," George concluded. "It appears that freedom of conscience and of religion will become a memory from a happier past."
We ask you to contact Senator Blunt's office to thank him for his excellent leadership on this critical issue of religious liberty. You can reach him by using this link:
You may also wish to let Senator McCaskill know whata you think of her vote against religious freedom. You can contact her by clicking this link:
You can watch an excellent video from Americans United for Life on this subject by clicking this link:
Since it is now clear that Congress will not act to block this dictatorial action by the Obama Administration, please be praying that our President will re-evaluate his conscience and respect the religious convictions of Americans who value the sanctity of human life.