On the same day that hundreds of active citizens flocked to Lansing to stand up for women’s rights, State Senate Republicans removed SB 975 from discussion. Introduced in February and slated for discussion on July 18, the bill would have given medical care providers, insurance companies and employers the right to discriminate in services offered based on a moral exemption.
The Religious Liberty and Conscience Protection Act addresses three levels of care. It allows any health facility to decline providing services if they have “a moral or religiously-based desire not to.” It gives employers the right to exclude objectionable procedures from employee’s health care benefits. And it gives doctors, nurses and pharmacists the right to refuse to participate in health care services they object to based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Marry Pollock, legislative vice president of the National Organization for Women, gave testimony about the potential effects of this bill back in June.
“SB 975’s apparent intent is to reduce the number of insurers, facilities and providers who provide comprehensive reproductive health care, or health care services to homosexuals based on the religious tenets of the Catholic Bishops. According to the Guttmacher Institute, one of three women will have an abortion in her lifetime. Ninety – nine percent of American women have used birth control. Catholics themselves reflect these same percentages. The bill provides no religious liberty protection to these women and homosexuals but instead permits and promotes denial of services to them.”
“Some examples of what SB 975 would permit : an insurer or employer could refuse to cover pregnancy costs associated with an out – of – wedlock pregnancy, an insurance company could refuse all coverage for gays or lesbians based on the religious objection of the insurance company, a doctor could refuse to provide services to a woman, a minority, or an HIV – positive person, a hospital could block doctors from treating miscarriages and late ectopic pregnancies. Women who need a life-saving abortion could quite literally be left to die, all in the name of ‘conscience.'”
Michigan received national attention last November when legislators included a conscience clause to the anti-bullying bill in the Senate. It would have given kids a license to bully as long as their hurtful words and actions are based on their moral beliefs. Ultimately the language was removed and PA 241 of 2011 did not include it, but that isn’t stopping conservatives from attempting to impose it on other types of legislation.
HB 5040, which BTL reported on earlier in July, seeks to give counseling students an excuse not to treat people whose morals they disagree with. This would not only affect LGBT clients, but others who might have potentially objectionable morals, such as those who have premarital sex, those who have had an abortion, those who use contraception, or those who date outside of their race. This bill only applies in the world of education, whereas SB975 affects anyone in the general public who may need medical care.
Michigan is not the only place this is happening. An even broader bill has been signed in Arizona. It gives anyone the right to refuse to provide any services, other than peace officer services, based on sincerely held religious beliefs. Arizona SB 1365 passed in May, 2012.
Consciencelaws.org lists legislation by state pertaining to conscience laws, including recent and pending attempts at exemptions. Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire and South Carolina join Michigan on the list. Massachusetts and Montana also have pending laws with conscience clauses, though in those cases the laws establish legality for assisted suicide and do not pertain to other procedures.
Conscience clauses came about in the late 70s after Roe v. Wade made abortion legal. According to the Guttmacher Institute’s most recent report, almost every state has conscience clauses that exempt doctors from providing abortion services. Fourteen states allow some providers to refuse contraceptive services and 18 allow some health care providers to refuse providing sterilization services. Michigan does not yet have a conscience clause for contraception or sterilization, though SB 975 would cover these services and more.
Jay Kaplan of the ACLU’s LGBT Project spoke against conscience clauses in BTL’s previous interview concerning 5040. “We are embarking on a dangerous slippery slope as our legislature attempts to carve out exceptions to non-discrimination policies and laws. We have a right to our religious beliefs, but that does not give us the right to use our religion to discriminate and impose those beliefs on others who do not share them.”