Moral objections could allow medical professionals to opt out of procedures
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Moral objections could allow medical professionals to opt out of procedures

Date: February 18, 2013
By: Emily Donaldson
State Capitol Bureau
Links: SB84 SB175

JEFFERSON CITY - State lawmakers considered several bills designed to restrict access to abortions and birth control during a Senate committee hearing Monday.

The debate in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday centered around legislation allowing healthcare professionals to opt out of performing certain medicial procedures due to their personal beliefs.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, would allow for medical professionals who object to abortions and other practices that conflict with their consciences to be excused from participation.  

Joe Ortwerth, Executive Director of Missouri Family Policy Council, a lobbying organization that promotes Christian, family-friendly public policy, emphasized that the medical professional must give notice of his or her objection in a sufficient amount of time before the procedure.

"A nurse walking into the operating room cannot say she has a problem with the procedure," Ortwerth said.

Opponents to the bill expressed concern over the vague definition of "appropriate time given."

Daniel Landon, senior Vice President of Governmental Relations for the Missouri Hospital Association, said that the word conscience also warranted a more clear definition.

Previous legislation had a similar goal but included pharmacists within the list of medical professionals who had the ability to object. With Rupp's measure, pharmacists are excluded because of their limited availability in the first place.

Ortwerth explained there may be only one pharmacist working at a time, and if that pharmacist denies a patient access to medicine, that could leave patients without a way to get their medications.  Unlike pharmacists, however, many nurses are often working at the same time. Therefore, some nurses could still decline to participate in certain procedures. 

This measure also includes provisions protecting a medical professional's job if he or she chooses to object. While an employer would still have the right to turn down an applicant if they say they are not willing to perform certain procedures at the time of application, the medical professional could not be held liable for objecting once hired.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, the Senate's only medical physician, said that this bill aims to protect those already with jobs who raise issues of conscience.

Opponents to this measure emphasized that the patient is the priority, not the health care provider's conscience.

Another bill debated at the Senate hearing would require a physician to be present during all pill-induced abortions.

This measure, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, would change current practices to require a woman to make four total visits to a physician to complete an abortion.  The first would determine if the procedure would be medically sound, the next two would administer sets of pills, and the last would be a final check-up.

Sue Fayer, a former manager of an Iowa Planned Parenthood, argued that the impact of a doctor being present to oversee these types of abortions is crucial.  Physicians in Iowa sometimes watch from a remote location on a webcam as a Planned Parenthood staff member takes the first steps to identify the stage of the pregnancy.  Then, upon identifying the abortion as safe to continue, the physician presses a button to open a drawer at the center containing the abortion-inducing pills.

Other Planned Parenthood representatives at the hearing confirmed that this was a common process in Iowa.

Fayer said that without legislation, this practice could become common in Missouri as well.

Susan Klein, the legislative liaison for Missouri Right to Life, says she believes that requiring a physician to be present will reduce the number of abortions in the state of Missouri.

"Prior to webcam abortions, there were five Planned Parenthood clinics in Iowa," Klein said. "That number increased to 17."

Klein said she thinks this bill should find support in Missouri, as it has traditionally been a pro-life state.

Another Planned Parenthood representative, Michelle Trupiano, said said she was concerned this would restrict a woman's access to the procedure because of the highly centralized location of doctors and the number of trips necessary to complete the procedure.