The Idaho Senate approved legislation that would extend freedom of conscience rights to pharmacists and other licensed health care workers concerning issues of emergency contraception and end-of-life care.
Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said the proposal isn't intended to limit access to health care for anyone and wouldn't apply to birth control. "We're not going to leave anybody in the lurch," he said. "We're not going to take away the rights of a patient." He added that extending conscience rights would help single parents who work in health care and would fear for their job if they exercised their conscience. "Some will say this is a right-wing scheme done by a bunch of religious fanatics, but it is not," he said. He gave senators letters from health care workers and lawyers who support the measure.
A similar effort stalled in a Senate committee last year. Winder said during the past year he worked with interested parties on improving the plan. "We obviously couldn't deal with all the objections to the issue or it would have destroyed the intent of the legislation," he said. Pro-choice groups are against the plan. He said he worked with the Idaho Hospital Association and Idaho Medical Association, which don't oppose the plan.
The bill passed on a 21-13 vote. Debate on the Senate floor Friday lasted about an hour, with Democrats speaking in opposition to the measure. Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said she found parts of the bill personally troubling. She said the measure could have affected the end-of-life care for her father, who recently passed away, or for the medical care of her husband, Sen. Clint Stennett, who is on leave for treating brain cancer. Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, also said the measure could have complicated medical decisions during the death of his mother in January.
Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, said that the legislation could have unintended consequences and would likely lead to lawsuits that could cost the state money in legal fees. "This is untested language that is rife with constitutional complications," she said. "I think we need to think very carefully about this bill." She also said the legislation could allow some health care professionals to not tell patients about potential treatments, including emergency contraception, that professionals morally oppose. "That's not something it seems like we should be doing in Idaho or we should be doing in America."
Several Republicans joined in opposition to the proposal. "The end of life care strikes too close to home for me," said Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle. Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, said he opposed the plan because of issues dealing with emergency contraception in cases of rape. Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said said she was troubled by the inclusion of end-of-life care and stem-cell treatment in the legislation.
Sens. Shirley McKague, R-Meridian, and Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, spoke in favor of the measure, saying it is important to allow people to exercise their conscience. "Licensed health care professionals also have conscience and they need to be protected," Fulcher said. He added that it isn't the intent of the legislation to change what health care workers are required to tell patients.
The measure now heads to the House. Read IdahoReporter.com's past coverage of the freedom of conscience legislation here and here. The text of the legislation is available here.