The Senate State Affairs Committee voted this morning, with one objection, to introduce a new version of "conscience" legislation from Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, that would permit any licensed health-care provider to refuse to provide a treatment, service or medication related to abortion, emergency contraception, stem cell research or end-of-life care if it violates his or her conscience. Winder earlier introduced a personal bill, SB 1270, to do the same thing; the new version, he said, includes changes in response to concerns from the Idaho Hospital Association and the Idaho Medical Association. "I think they felt it protected the hospitals and protected the patients' rights in a better way than the first draft was," Winder said.
"It's not really anti-abortion, there's nothing in it that has anything to do with restricting any rights to an abortion or contraception," Winder said. A health professional, from a pharmacist to a nurse, would have to have given written "advanced written notification" to his or her employer of objections to a particular procedure, treatment or drug, in order to exercise the conscience right; without that notice, the provider would have to provide the treatment. If it's a "life-threatening situation" and no other provider is available, the provider would have to provide the treatment until another provider is available.
Winder said he brought the bill in response to a 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals decision a year ago that said if states want to protect providers in such situations, they need to have legislation on the books allowing for that. He said he's also concerned that national health-care reform legislation might try to force the issue. "We all know that the national administration is pro-choice in their leanings," Winder said. Idaho law already contains a "conscience" provision that protects doctors and hospitals that refuse to perform abortions. The "end of life care" provision is new; Winder acknowledged that it could affect the provision of pain medications for dying patients to which a provider objects. Idaho already outlaws euthanasia, and assisted suicide is illegal under Idaho case law.
Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, cast the only "no" vote against introducing the new bill.