Missouri House passes bill that would add to health care providers' opt-outs

Legislation giving health care providers the right to refuse to provide care if it violates their religious principles won final approval in the Missouri House Tuesday.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where similar legislation was approved by a committee yesterday.

House Speaker Tim Jones, a Eureka Republican who sponsored the measure, said the legislation protects workers’ rights.

“We want to encourage those people in the health care field and give them a shield, so they can have an opt-out, with proper notice, to their employer,” Jones said.

State law already allows doctors, nurses and other health care workers to refuse to participate in an abortion. Under the bill, that right to refuse would be extended to include providing birth control, sterilization and assisted reproduction services and stem cell research. Medical professionals would also be able to deny referrals for care and could not be punished legally or professionally for their actions.

There is an exemption in the legislation for emergency situations, Jones said, adding that in those instances “you can throw this bill out. It wouldn’t apply.”

But critics of the bill said it sacrifices the health of women to the religious beliefs of medical providers.

Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, a Kansas City Democrat, shared a story during debate about having to make medical decisions for his wife following the birth of their first child 16 months ago. When problems arose, he needed all the information available to make the right decision for his family.

“Had this legislation been in place, my wife's life could have been put at risk over the moral objections of her doctor," he said.

Rep. Stacey Newman, a Richmond Heights Democrat, said the legislation, “terrorizes rape victims” by giving medical professionals the right to deny them access to emergency contraception.

"This bill is wrong," she said. "It hurts people. It hurts women and families."

In the end, the House overwhelmingly approved the measure by a veto-proof super majority, 116 to 41. Joining Republicans in favor of the bill were 11 Democrats.