The Missouri House passed a “conscience bill” yesterday to allow health care workers to deny health care to women. Under the law, medical professionals cannot be fired or discriminated against for refusing to provide contraception or perform abortions if it conflicted with their personal views, while employers do not have to cover contraception.
But as opponents of the measure point out, there is more at stake than religious convictions for doctors or pharmacists:
Most of the opposition in the House came from Democratic lawmakers representing districts near St. Louis and Kansas City who argued the legislation would inhibit access to health care for some Missourians. Several opponents said it seemed the measure was aimed particularly at birth control. Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis, said the medical procedures at issue in the legislation would affect women most directly. Speaking with a male opponent of the measure, Newman said, “You will be putting your stamp on what you think I should be doing and also deciding if your religious beliefs will supersede my religious beliefs and my moral convictions.”
This bill now goes to the state Senate for consideration before the Missouri legislative session ends on Friday.
Missouri is not the only state to consider this kind of bill. On Tuesday, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) signed a similar bill allowing pharmacists to refuse to fill a prescription that they think could be used to induce an abortion. Opponents claim the law is broad enough that it could allow pharmacists to deny birth control or emergency contraception, or even procedures like chemotherapy if they would put a pregnancy at risk.
The St. Louis Beacon reports that House and Senate leaders appear to have agreed on a compromise bill, which passed the Senate 29–5 today. Some of the provisions in the House bill have been stripped, including one which would have allowed pharmacies to decline to stock a drug or medical device, but employers could still opt out of providing insurance coverage for abortion or contraception. The House is also expected to pass the compromise bill and send it to Gov. Jay Nixon (D), who is raising some objections to parts of the bill, according to the Beacon.