A state Senate health subcommittee moved forward with a bill Wednesday that will allow a nurse, pharmacist, or other health care worker to refuse procedures involving embryos or euthanasia. Supporters of the bill say it protects those workers from having to do something against their religious beliefs.
However opponents say it undermines health care providers and could violate patients’ rights.
The Senate Medical Affairs subcommittee voted 3-2 to advance the legislation. Under the bill by state Rep. Greg Delleney (R-Chester), a health care provider could not punish an employee who refuses to perform embryonic stem cell research, in vitro fertilization, euthanasia, or an abortion if it violates the employee’s ethics.
“Many aspiring doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other medical professionals may have sincere conscientious objections to performing these procedures and may be wary of entering their aspired profession for fear of being forced to participate,” Matt Gerald of the Palmetto Family Council told the subcommittee.
A previous state law already gives doctors and pharmacists the power to refuse birth-control procedures. However, Delleney says it does not protect the employees who work under them.
Most of the speakers Wednesday testified against the law. Several advocacy groups were concerned that some women would have trouble getting necessary reproductive treatment in an emergency situation.
Pamela Jacobs, executive director of the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, painted a stark scenario: “A mother who takes her teen who has just been raped to the emergency room… could be turned away because the doctor does not feel it would be right to give information on pregnancy prevention to a teenager.”
Some legislators opposed the bill, saying it was too broad in the protections it gives to employees. “If I think I’m about to be terminated from any health care facility, the first thing I’d do is rush and go sign one of those forms,” State Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) said, “(I’d) then dare them to fire me because I’d claim you violated my rights.”
Hutto said he had never heard of a case of an employee being terminated over a conscientious objection. However, Sen. David Thomas (R-Greenville) pointed out that such objectors may be afraid to speak out for fear of losing their jobs.
However, Phillip Waters– executive director of the Southeastern Fertility Center in Mount Pleasant– seemed to agree with Hutto
“I am unaware of any instance in the 23 years I’ve been doing this where a person who objects to working around embryos has gone to work for a fertility center,” Waters said.
Another part of the bill would prohibit the state health plan from covering elective abortions, although a woman could purchase a separate rider. Supporters say taxpayers should not have to pay for a procedure they morally oppose. However, opponents say the riders are pointless because no woman ever expects an unplanned pregnancy.