The Idaho Senate is considering expanding the right of conscience for health care professionals to include pharmacists, nurses, and other workers. The law currently only applies to doctors and hospitals. The expansion could protect those workers from dispensing drugs dealing with emergency contraception, end of life care, and treatment using human stem cells.
Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said his plan shouldn’t affect people trying to get a prescription filled. “There’s nothing in it that has anything to do with the right to an abortion or contraception,” he said. “It’s a right of conscience issue.” He said he worked with the Idaho Medical Association and Idaho Hospital Association on the current plan. Pro-choice groups including NARAL call conscience clauses “refusal clauses” and say they can endanger patients’ health.
A similar proposal, which only expanded the right of conscience to pharmacists, failed to pass the Legislature last year. The plan would require employees to give a written notice about their conscientious concerns and protect them from civil, criminal, or administrative punishment from invoking that right. In a life-threatening emergency, the proposal would require that a health care professional provide treatment if no one else is available.
Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, stalled the proposal last year because of its wording. “I thought they could do a better job,” she said. “If they wanted to limit abortions, then say what you mean. Don’t bring a bill that insinuates something. You’re going in the back door. I have no problem with someone’s conscience. I do have a problem if they don’t inform their employer that they do have some conscience issues. I think it’s only fair.” She said the proposal needs to balance the rights of health care workers and patients. “You have to protect people on both sides. If it’s in a small community and there’s only one pharmacist and they have a conscience matter, you have to make sure that a person doesn’t have to drive 50 miles or more in snow swept roads to get care that their doctor has prescribed.” Lodge said she also tried to work with medical groups to craft a better proposal. “The consensus was let’s hold it (for a year) and see if something better can come along. They’ve got something better, I guess.” Winder’s proposal won’t go through Lodge’s committee, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, this year.
Winder said he wants to get this proposal approved this year to head off any potential federal health care reform. “We all know that the current (Obama) administration is pro-choice in its leanings,” he said. Current congressional reform plans don’t include conscience rights for health care professionals. “In none of the current drafts is there any strong language for protection of conscience.” Winder also said court cases have made it clear that conscience rights aren’t implied in federal or state law, which is why he is backing the plan this year. He has six co-sponsors for the plan in the Idaho Legislature, including five Republicans and House Assistant Minority Leader James Ruchti, D-Pocatello.