Legislation creating freedom of conscience rights for health care workers on certain issues including abortion and end-of-life care will become Idaho law without the signature from Gov. Butch Otter. The Senate backer of the plan said he understands the governor’s concerns.
“It’s always tough to get these types of bills through,” said Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise. The freedom of conscience rights for pharmacists and other health care workers received criticism from the AARP and some pro-choice groups that said it could allow health care professionals to ignore the wishes and instructions of patients.
Winder also said he was happy the governor didn’t veto the legislation. “In most places, he supported it,“ Winder said. “I think he was just concerned about the potential misunderstanding that might arise with end-of-life care.” Winder said he didn’t share those concerns and that end-of-life care wouldn’t be disrupted by the legislation.
Otter wrote in a letter to Lt. Gov. Brad Little and the Senate that protecting health care workers is worthwhile, but the legislation carries some risks. “Forcing health care professionals to provide services they find morally objectionable is unacceptable; however, negatively impacting patients’ rights — especially when it comes to end-of-life decisions — is equally problematic,” he wrote. “Greater care must be taken to ensure that decisions within living wills and powers of attorney concerning end-of-life treatment are honored without additional burdens on the patient or family.”
Though Otter didn’t sign the legislation, it will become law because he didn’t veto it. Under the Idaho Constitution, the governor has five days to sign or veto legislation presented to him by lawmakers. That deadline stretches to 10 days after the Legislature adjourns.
Otter said he’ll keep an eye on the new conscience rights, which may need adjustments in the future. “While this legislation may not be a panacea, I am willing to follow my conscience, allowing it to become law and seeing if it will protect the rights of providers without reducing patient care,” he wrote. “If it does not, the Legislature and stakeholders should work on finding a balance.” Otter said Tuesday that he won't say whether he'll veto other legislation from this session until it arrives on his desk.
The conscience rights for pharmacists and other health care workers will become law in July, when most legislation approved by lawmakers and the governor goes into effect.