On Friday, the Missouri legislature passed a bill (SB 749) that attempts to supersede federal law and deny access to birth control for women based upon the religious or moral convictions of any health plan provider, healthcare institution, entity, employee, employer, or person.
The bill contains a provision that is a narrower version of the Blunt Amendment. (I wrote about the Blunt Amendment here.) The Blunt Amendment would have permitted employers to deny all preventative health care services based upon religious or moral conviction; SB 759 applies specifically to abortion, contraception, and sterilization. Still, it’s a crappy bill.
Notably, SB 749 does not define “religious or moral convictions.” As such, any person or entity could refuse to provide contraception coverage for any reason or no reason, as long as that reason is ostensibly moral or based upon personal religious views.
The bill also permits healthcare and medical professionals to refuse to participate in “specified medical procedures” if such participation violates those professionals’ religious conscience. The bill defines ”specified medical procedures” as “abortion, abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, sterilization which is not medically necessary, assisted reproduction, human cloning, human embryonic stem-cell research, human somatic cell nuclear transfer, fetal tissue research, and non-therapeutic fetal experimentation.”
Unsurprisingly, the bill defines “religious conscience” so broadly as to cover practically everything:
“Conscience” is defined as religious, moral or ethical principles. For purposes of this act, a health care institution’s conscience shall be determined by reference to its existing or proposed religious, moral, or ethical guidelines, mission statement, constitution, bylaws, articles of incorporation, regulations, or other relevant documents. A medical professional’s conscience means a sincere and meaningful belief in God or in relation to a supreme being, or a belief which, though not so derived, occupies in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by God among adherents to religious faiths.
The prevalent view is that this bill’s “religious or moral convictions” provision will apply only to Catholic institutions. I disagree. Given the breadth of the language, there is nothing to stop any health care institution from changing its formation documents to include some sort of religious motivation,” thus bringing itself with the bill’s purview. As for the “conscience of medical professionals” provision, certainly, “a sincere and meaningful belief in God” is so vague as to be meaningless.
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