House panel votes for more time to consider health workers' conscience bill


During a gubernatorial debate Thursday night, Gov. Butch Otter left the door open just a crack for Medicaid expansion.

Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, says his right of choice legislation is not intended to limit access to abortions for women, but is designed to allow certain health care workers to exercise their right of choice while staying employed.  The House State Affairs Committee has yet to weigh on in the issue, voting Wednesday for more time for additional consideration for the bill.

Winder told the committee that the legislation is not a “right-wing scheme” to limit women’s access to abortion or emergency contraception, but is a “heartfelt effort” to give health care providers outside of hospital settings the ability to choose whether or not to perform certain medical procedures or dispense certain medical drugs.  He told lawmakers that it is “dangerous” to remove a medical worker’s right of conscience, and that “ugly” things resulted when governments of the past did so.

The bill was presented to lawmakers by David Ripley, executive director of Idaho Choose Life, a pro-life foundation.  Ripley told lawmakers that the legislation would help to protect the rights of medical workers outside of hospitals and could help prevent “dramatic consequences” of pending federal health care reforms, which Ripley said he believes Congress will enact.  Ripley said that the pending reforms feature provisions that could strip  health care workers of the right of conscience, and that Winder’s legislation could protect Idahoans.

“By protecting doctors, we are actually protecting ourselves,” said Ripley.

The bill would have implications on abortions, stem cell research, end-of-life care, as well as the dispensing of emergency contraception medications.

Opponents of the measure, including David Irwin, representing the AARP, told lawmakers that passing the legislation would place the freedom of conscience for doctors and health care workers ahead of the rights of patient.  Irwin said that the end-of-life provision should be removed because it would strip patients’ dignity by subjecting their end-of-life directives to the wishes of doctors.

“The deathbed is the wrong place to learn someone else’s conscience,” said Irwin.  He added that the legislation, which the AARP feels is “bad policy,” would more adversely affect rural areas because medical patients often have more limited access to medical treatment than those in more urban areas of the state.

Irwin was joined in his objections by Kara Cadwallader, a practicing physician from Boise.  Cadwallader said the government should remove itself from intervening in the provider-patient relationship and should allow patients the right to have their end-of-life wishes granted despite the religious objections of doctors.

“Let’s not build unnecessary walls,” said Cadawallder.  She echoed Irwin in saying that patients in rural areas would suffer from the legislation because nothing in the plan requires medical providers who refuse to perform certain services or dispense certain medications to direct patients to a provider who will perform the procedure or dispense the medicine.

Marty Duran, speaking on behalf of Planned Parenthood, said the measure could complicate hiring practices in the state.  Duran advised lawmakers that not only is the legislation not needed because state and federal law already protects workers who have religious objections to certain medical procedures, employers would be on unstable ground in hiring practices.  She told lawmakers that employers could be subjected to lawsuits if they ask about a potential employee’s conscience during the interview process.

Rep. Max Black, R-Boise, said the debate Wednesday raised some serious concerns for him and that he would like more time for consideration.  Black then moved to place the bill on the committee’s agenda Wednesday.  With several citizens and interest group representatives still waiting to testify and committee members due on the House floor only minutes after Black’s move, lawmakers agreed and voted to take up the legislation again on Thursday.

(Note: The measure has already passed the Senate; read IdahoReporter.com’s coverage of its passage here.)

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