House endorses health care conscience legislation

Missouri health care workers could refuse to partake in certain medical procedures that violate their ethical or religious beliefs under legislation endorsed by the Missouri House on Wednesday.

The House voted 116-38 to give first-round approval to the bill, which is sponsored by Republican House Speaker Tim Jones. He said the measure would protect workers from having to engage in procedures that conflict with their beliefs, while also protecting patients.

“This is good for patients in making sure they don’t have people involved in their procedures making second guesses because of their religious beliefs,” said Jones, of Eureka.

Republican Rep. Keith Frederick, an orthopedic surgeon from Rolla, agreed and said it was important that medical personnel are engaged with the patient rather than worrying about religious conflicts.

The measure would apply to procedures such as those involving abortion-inducing drugs, artificial insemination and the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration. It would also let workers opt out of procedures involving cloning and embryonic stem cell research. Religiously affiliated hospitals would be shielded from liability for refusing to provide medical procedures that conflict with their religious beliefs.

It would require health care workers to give “reasonable” notice to their employers if they are going to opt out of a procedure. Health personnel also could not be fired or demoted for refusing to participate in an operation. The legislation would not permit workers to withhold emergency treatments that could save a patient’s life.

Many House Democrats voted against the bill, saying it would block access to health care, especially for women.

“This is just one more vagina-specific bill in an election year that is designed to hurt women,” said Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis.

Another St. Louis Democrat, Rep. Genise Montecillo, said she was concerned the legislation would prevent women from receiving information about contraception. Jones said the purpose of the bill isn’t to restrict information, but rather protect workers from doing things against their beliefs.

The bill would also not excuse caregivers from a duty to inform patients about their health conditions, risks and medical options. However, health care workers opting out of an operation would not be required to provide referrals for the procedures covered in the bill.

The measure needs one more vote House before moving to the Senate. The House passed a similar bill each of the last two years, but it has not passed the Senate. Jones said he is hoping the third time is the charm.

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