State Senate Rebuffs Conscience Legislation
for Second Year
For the second year in a row, the Missouri Senate has turned its back on legislation to protect the conscience rights of pro-life doctors, nurses, and medical personnel. For the second session in a row, the Missouri Senate refused to take up and pass health care conscience rights legislation overwhelmingly approved by the Missouri House of Representatives.
House Bill 457, sponsored by House Speaker Tim Jones, was approved by the Missouri House in mid-March by a resounding vote of 116-41. The legislation provided that medical professionals and health care institutions could not be forced to participate in medical procedures that violate their religious, moral, or ethical principles.
The Senate Judiciary Committee recommended passage of the bill in mid-April. Yet in the remaining four weeks of the session, the Senate failed to even debate the measure. The same outcome occurred during the 2012 session when the Senate refused to even discuss health care conscience legislation overwhelmingly approved by the House.
Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard stated that he was not willing to devote considerable time to debating the health care conscience bill. This despite the fact that the Senate engaged in lengthy and at times late-night debates on numerous other bills of interest to the business community and the liquor industry.
The health care conscience proposal was strongly opposed by the Missouri Hospital Association, spearheaded by the pro-abortion leadership of Barnes Hospital and the Washington University Medical Center. The bill was also vigorously fought by the lobbyist for the pro-cloning Stowers Institute. The Stowers Family spent nearly $30 million in 2006 to promote passage of Amendment 2 which created a constitutional right in Missouri to clone and kill human embryos.
Under the legislation, no medical professional could be required to provide, perform, or assist in medical procedures or research that violate his or her conscience. Procedures covered by the conscience protections include abortion, abortion-inducing drugs, abortifacients, contraceptives, sterilizations, assisted reproduction, and non-therapeutic fetal experimentation.
Medical researchers could not be compelled to engage in human cloning, human embryonic stem-cell research, human somatic cell nuclear transfer, or fetal tissue research. Health care professionals would be shielded from civil, criminal, or administrative liability for declining to participate in procedures or research that violate their moral convictions.
The anti-discrimination provisions of the bill prohibit disciplinary or retaliatory actions against a medical professional for exercising their conscience rights. Discriminatory actions would include termination, suspension, demotion, reduction of wages or benefits, or any refusal of staff privileges.
Health care professionals who would be protected under the bill include physicians, physician's assistants, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, nurse practitioners, medical assistants, medical researchers, and any student or applicant for studies in any of those health care professions.
The legislation would also extend critical conscience protections to religious health care institutions. Hospitals and health care groups would be shielded from liability for declining to perform medical procedures that are contrary to their mission statement or bylaws, or their religious, moral, or ethical guidelines.
Missouri's current conscience protection law was enacted twenty-six years and was written to cover surgical abortions. In the intervening years we have seen the emergence of medication abortions, the imposition of the federal abortion drug mandate, and the destruction of human embryos through research involving human cloning.
Missouri's current law also includes exceptions which have been exploited in other states to force hospital-employed nurses to perform abortions and medical students to be trained to conduct nontherapeutic abortions.
Regrettably, the Missouri Senate is not only disregarding the bipartisan will of the Missouri House, but also thumbing its nose at unequivocal public sentiment on this issue. A survey done in 2009 by The Polling Company found that 87 percent of the American public agrees that "healthcare professionals in America should not be forced to participate in procedures and practices to which they have moral objections."
Please be praying that the Missouri Senate will develop the collective conscience to pass vital healthcare conscience legislation next session. There is no excuse for the continuing failure of the Senate to address this issue, considering the fact that senators who claim to be conservative lawmakers make up more than two-thirds of the membership of that body.
It matters little how strong the conservative majorities are in the General Assembly if legislative leaders lack the resolve to enact policies that reflect the pro-life and pro-family values of the people of Missouri.
We are grateful to House Speaker Tim Jones for his leadership on this issue, and to Senator Scott Rupp who sponsored the companion bill in the Senate. We appreciate the support of the numerous state representatives who voted for House Bill 457, and the state senators who are eager to vote for this legislation should it be allowed to be brought forward for a vote.