Members of the Michigan Senate’s Committee on Health Policy held a hearing on and voted in support of Senate Bill 136 March 21. The bill, if passed into law, would provide health care professionals with legal protections should they decide to discriminate against a patient or co-worker based “on religious beliefs, moral convictions, or ethical principles sincerely held by an individual or entity.” The bill, whose primary sponsor is State Sen. John Moolenaar (R – Midland), is aimed at legalizing discrimination in Michigan on religious or moral grounds.
A similar bill was passed in the lame duck session of the house last year, but was not heard in the senate.
Currently medical professionals can decline to provide abortions based on a “moral objection.” SB 136 extends the conscience clause to any procedure or prescription that violates one’s religious beliefs. This could include denial of birth control or hormones, and may even be used to discriminate. Schools would not be allowed to deny credits to an individual in a medial or counseling program if that student refused to participate in learning about morally objectionable care.
The bill also has a provision for “payers,” including employers, to have their religious beliefs imposed upon the patient through their insurance coverage, and allows insurance companies to deny coverage based on moral beliefs. It would also allow pharmacies to decline filling prescriptions that they are morally opposed to. This could include birth control, HIV medication, prenatal care for morally objectionable family circumstances, or hormones for transgender individuals.
The bill includes a provision protecting care providers from civil lawsuits, criminal action and licensing or administrative actions in response to their refusal to provide care. Although it specifically states that employers and schools who punish employees for refusing to provide care may be subject to a lawsuit.
Emily Dievendorf, director of policy for Equality Michigan said, “At a time when our Governor is working to reform and improve healthcare in Michigan, extremists within his own party are choosing to waste our money by doing the opposite and finding ways to keep people from potentially life-saving health care. In complete contrast with the Hippocratic Oath, Senator Moolenaar (R – Midland) is suggesting that we empower health professionals to first do harm by using a license to discriminate to turn away a patient based on any arbitrary criteria.
“Denying emergency room care to a Jewish patient, care over disagreements on religious text, is not what they had in mind when asking professionals to pledge to the Hippocratic Oath. This reprehensible bill must be stopped before it becomes embarrassingly clear that Michigan is a state which prefers hate over compassion.”
Dievendorf said that three amendments were offered in committee which would protect against discrimination, but that all were rejected.
A rally was held last week in Kalamazoo in opposition to SB 136 at the office of State Sen. Tanya Schuitmaker to encourage her to vote against the bill.
“In the guise of religious freedom, SB 136 would legitimize discrimination against women and LGBT people, and denial of medical services could have life or death consequences,” said Rev. Jill McAllister of Peoples Church Kalamazoo. “SB 136 is designed to undermine the core principle of caring for all people and would represent an enormous step backwards in our state. Michigan families deserve quality healthcare, no matter where they work and where they seek care.”
David Feaster, executive director of CARES said, “As it stands now, many individuals in our community with HIV experience hardships with the resources necessary for transportation, to necessary medical care. There are so few specialist treating this condition that if one physician refuses to treat a patient because they are gay, or transgendered, or of another religion, that might mean that that patient must travel another hour or more to receive the help they need. Our community members deserve to receive the closest treatment available. There are already so many barriers to healthcare, we don’t need additional ones.”
Equality Michigan, Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women are among the groups in opposition to the bill, which could be voted on in as little as two weeks when the State Senate returns from vacation.
Read the full text of the bill at http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2013-2014/billintroduced/Senate/htm/2013-SIB-0136.htm.