Mo. House backs medical workers' rights measure
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Mo. House backs medical workers' rights measure

Date: March 11, 2013
By: Nick Thompson
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HB 457, HB 1541

JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri House of Representatives endorsed its devout Catholic House Speaker's legislation Monday that seeks to prevent medical workers from performing procedures that violate their beliefs.

The bill won preliminary approval by a vote of 118-42. House Speaker Tim Jones designed his legislation to allow health care providers to opt-out of performing procedures such as abortions if they violate their consciences. Jones, R-Eureka, said the bill comes from his belief in God.

"It comes from the unalienable belief that our rights come from the creator, and that's what this country was founded on. If you don't like it, I'm sorry but it's true" Jones said.

Jones said his bill tightens language in the state's refusal clause, which currently allows providers to refuse to perform abortion procedures. "Conscience" is defined in the legislation as the "religious, moral, or ethical principles of a health care worker or a health care institution." Health workers would need to provide "reasonable notice under the circumstances of his or her intent not to participate." The legislation would protect these workers from civil liability and would bar health care providers from discriminating against them should they refuse to participate in the procedures.  

However, Rep. Judy Morgan, D-Kansas City, argued the bill would become a new, "sweeping definition" of the refusal clause in the state. Morgan said the bill could limit a patients' access to reproductive care such as sterilization and contraception. Morgan said the bill could mean a rape survivor would be unable to receive emergency contraception.

"We all know if Todd Akin had been a medical professional in that emergency room, and a rape victim came in, he would be unwilling to give her emergency contraception and he would be unwilling to refer her to some place to even get care," Morgan said.

Several other Democrats in the chamber argued that in cases of emergency, the rights of the patient should trump those of the medical professional.

Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, D-Kansas City, teared up in the floor debate, giving an emotional speech about his decision to provide an emergency hysterectomy after his wife gave birth through a Cesarean section. LaFaver said Jones' bill would hurt families who face the kind of decision he did.

Jones said that the members of the Democratic party were not engaging in a factual debate, as the provisions of the bill prohibit withholding emergency medical treatment or services necessary to save the life of a patient.

"It's one thing to throw out fear mongering versus facts and hyperbole on hypotheticals. It's another thing to get to the truth" Jones said. 

Jones thanked the women in the chamber who voted for the legislation for protecting life, workers and conscience.  

The bill requires another vote in the House before it can move to the Senate. Jones filed similar legislation last year but Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed it.

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