Several religious leaders opposed a bill that would allow medical facilities to refrain from offering procedures based on religious or moral standards at the Senate Health Policy Committee meeting today.
SB 0065, a re-introduction from last year, would allow health care facilities to establish policies denying certain procedures based on religious or moral beliefs, in non-emergency situations. It would also allow individual workers to object to performing certain procedures.
No vote was taken on legislation today.
The Rev. Jeff LIEBMANN of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Midland, the hometown of bill sponsor, Sen. John MOOLENAAR (R-Midland), and Randy BLOCK of the Michigan Social Justice Network gave opposing testimony, along with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.
"I, like many of my colleagues, are shocked and appalled that anyone with a knowledge of American government and the real meaning of religious liberty in the United States would even consider supporting this bill," Liebmann said. ". . . Healers heal -- healers do not make moral judgments on patients."
The bill would not allow the denial of a procedure based on the patient.
He said, "If anyone feels that legal medical procedures violate their religious beliefs, then they are free to find a profession where they do not have to engage in providing such procedures to others. That is religious liberty."
The bill died in the House during last year's Lame Duck session, thanks to objections from Gov. Rick SNYDER, and is back with few changes.
"We've been listening to concerns raised and have tried to clarify that no person can be discriminated against in treatment," Moolenaar said. ". . . Illinois has had this law in books for over a decade, and so many of the misrepresentations of the bill do not actually reflect the language of the bill."
Liebmann said that America's founders "never intended to protect the religious beliefs of institutions providing services to the public, they were protecting the rights of individuals to practice the religion of their choice, free from the imposition of a state religion."
Ed RIVET of Right to Life of Michigan (RTLM), which backs the bill, brought up a 34-year-old law that allows institutions to deny abortions.
"We currently have hospitals that don't perform abortions and the sky has not fallen," he said. "I cannot point to a single case of anyone saying that the conscience protection regarding abortion has denied anybody access to abortion -- never happened."
Health Policy Chair Sen. Jim MARLEAU (R-Lake Orion) said there are three amendments that the committee has to consider before a vote and he was unsure whether the committee would hear more testimony.
The gay rights group Equality Michigan sent out an email titled, "Extremist Legislators Acting TOMORROW to Empower Your Doctor to Discriminate."
"Giving any healthcare professional or institution a license to discriminate is immoral and unethical," the email reads. "We should be able to expect that in our time of need our doctors will be held to their oath to 'first do no harm.' If passed, this bill would permit a "first do harm" climate to become the new reality in Michigan."
Progress Michigan Communications Director Jessica TRAMONTANA said Republicans are playing politics.
"It's appalling that Republicans think they have a right to shove their political agenda between a woman and her doctor," she said. "This bill allows health care providers and insurance companies to refuse services based on arbitrary moral or religious objections. SB 136 is dangerous, and winds back the clock because it would allow health care providers or insurance companies to deny patients the vital health care services they need like birth control, cancer screenings or mammograms."
But Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC), which has the legislation as one of its priorities this session, said those against SB 0136 have launched a "disinformation campaign." The MCC said the bill "would allow the health care industry to create an accommodation policy for those who are morally opposed to providing objectionable elective services such as abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization procedures."
"Following today's Senate Health Policy Committee hearing it has become apparent that those who are opposed to the legislation will stop at nothing to mislead and deceive the public about the impacts of the bill," said spokesman Dave MALUCHNIK. "Michigan Catholic Conference calls on elected officials to distance themselves from fringe organizations radically opposed to religious liberty rights and to read legislation prior to issuing erroneous and highly inflammatory email blasts."