Yesterday, the Pennsylvania State Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee held a public hearing on Senate Bill 1255. Even though the bill will probably not come for a vote during this session, the Women’s Law Project opposes it. Here’s why:
The Women’s Law Project believes that SB 1255 strips important protections from health care consumers and denies medical employers the right to fire or discipline employees who refuse to do their jobs.
Under the guise of protecting the consciences of hospitals and health care providers, this legislation will eliminate patients’ legal rights when their hospital or health care provider decides not to treat them or refer them for the care they need.
• SB 1255 creates an absolute right for hospitals and health care providers to deny information, necessary medical referrals, and medical care to patients seeking reproductive health care and other enumerated services. All the provider would have to do is to assert that it has a religious, ethical or moral objection to the service it does not wish to provide. Medical ethics, standards of care, and notions of professional responsibility for protecting the welfare of the patient would be meaningless.
• The right to refuse treatment could extend even to emergencies, in which a patient might die if she were not immediately treated.
• The right to refuse services that this bill would create is so absolute that it would even require state-funded family planning providers to hire anti-family planning employees who could simply refuse to do their jobs. Firing or disciplining these employees for failing to do their jobs would be regarded as illegal discrimination against them.
• SB 1255 is so broad that it applies not just to doctors but to hospitals, pharmacies, and nursing homes, as well as a stunningly broad list of individuals with a connection to health care: researchers; nurses’ aides; all hospital employees including CEOs, clerical and janitorial staff; med school faculty; pharmacists; and students. Under SB 1255, a clerical employee at a hospital could assert a conscientious objection to processing a bill or maintaining a medical record for anyone who has undergone infertility treatment. If the hospital so much as transfers or reassigns that employee, it may be deemed to have committed an act of illegal discrimination.
Adequate protections already exist in state and federal law for medical providers with bona fide religious objections to providing certain medical procedures. SB 1255 will harm patients and create havoc for employers in the medical field.