A bill was proposed in the Pennsylvania Senate today, bill #292. It was introduced by twelve Republican men, and is formally known as the Conscientious Objection Act. What, you say, is this a throwback to conscientious objectors in the Vietnam War, people who did community service instead of military service? No, absolutely not.
The bill's purpose is listed as "It is the public policy of the Commonwealth to respect and protect the fundamental right of conscience of individuals who and institutions which provide health care services." Personally I was unaware that institutions had a conscience. People have a conscience, but an institution? That's tricky.
This is problematic for a number of reasons, what is a health care provider doesn't believe in blood transfusions or psychiatric medication? No problem, because that isn't what this bill is about. It has a very narrow definition of what health care services are. This is what the bill is about -- health care services is defined as:
Any phase of patient medical care, treatment or procedure relating to abortion, artificial birth control, artificial insemination, assisted reproduction, emergency contraception, human cloning, human embryonic stem-cell research, fetal experimentation and sterilization and including, but not limited to, patient referral, counseling, therapy, testing, diagnosis, prognosis, research, instruction, prescribing, dispensing or administering a device, drug, or medication, surgery, or any other care or treatment rendered by health care providers or health care institutions.So this is a bill about sex, or at least about sex that can lead to pregnancy. It also means a clerk at any store that sells condoms can refuse to sell them. Health care provider is defined as:
An individual who may be asked or assigned to participate in any way in a health care service, including, but not limited to, a physician, physician assistant, nurse, nurses' aide, medical assistant, hospital employee, clinic employee, nursing home employee, pharmacist, pharmacy employee, researcher, medical or nursing school faculty, student or employee, counselor, social worker or any professional or paraprofessional, or any other person who furnishes or assists in the furnishing of health care services.That's a very broad definition. Nor is there anything in the law saying these conscientious beliefs have to be uniformly applied. If the pharmacy clerk doesn't think unmarried people should have sex can he or she refuse to sell condoms to people who don't have a marriage license? Erectile dysfunction medication? That's not on the list, unless it falls under assisted reproduction, so if you don't think unmarried people should have sex can you refuse to sell them condoms but have to sell then ED meds? If the pharmacy clerk thinks that the birth rate among some people is too high and others too low could they refuse to sell birth control to one group but happily do so to another?
Also note that the bill makes it clear that this does not affect the health care provider's disagreement with "informed consent" laws (think the "you have to watch the ultrasound" rules): "Nothing in this act shall be construed to exempt a health care provider or health care institution from complying with informed consent requirements mandated by statute regarding the provision of a health care service."
The bill specifically states that a health care provider or institution with objections to abortion, artificial birth control, etc. are free from liability and cannot be fired, disciplined or transferred based on those beliefs.
Participation in abortion, birth control, etc. is defined to include referral or transfer. So if a couple show up in an emergency room and the woman is pregnant with a complication that will cause her immediate death the staff can sit on their hands, twiddle their thumbs, whistle a happy tune, whatever they please, with no obligation to transfer them to an institution or doctor that will treat them or even tell them where they can get treatment. They can watch her die with no repercussions whatsoever.
The twelve Republican male state senators who introduced this bill are:
Elder A. Vogel