Michigan Republicans, RFRA — April 26, 2013 at 6:29 am

Michigan’s “Religious Liberty & Moral Conscience Protection Act” Isn’t Really About Religious Liberty


It’s about opposing Obamacare from every possible angle.

Considering all the shenanigans in the Michigan legislature lately, you might have forgotten about Michigan Senate Bill 136, the “Religious Liberty & Moral Conscience Protection Act.” Well, I haven’t — and I hope you won’t, either. It could come up for a vote in the Senate at any time and we need to let our Senators know this bill does not represent the will of most Michiganders, including many in the healthcare field.

As I wrote here previously, the bill would give healthcare providers, facilities and insurers the right to refuse to provide or cover “objectionable” healthcare services on religious or moral grounds. But the bill is alarmingly vague, opening the door to discrimination and refusal to provide care to almost anyone, for almost any reason.

Worst of all, there are no genuine protections for patients in this bill. Those are even more vague because the bill isn’t about patient care at all. It’s about legislators and a vocal minority who want to put up roadblocks to anything even remotely related to Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act.

Do the bill’s supporters even understand it?
It’s not just the bill itself that’s vague. Many of its co-sponsors are being dodgy about the bill’s status in the Michigan Senate and even their own support for it. When I contacted the office of co-sponsor Senator John Pappageorge (R-Troy), I was told the bill was still before the Senate Committee on Health Policy. I had to inform the Senator’s staffer that the bill had, in fact, passed out of committee and would next go before the full Senate. Either our tax dollars are being spent on woefully uneducated staffers or the bill’s sponsors are being willfully deceptive.

Senator Tonya Schuitmaker (R-Lawton), Republican Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Health Policy, was at least honest in her reply to the letter I sent asking that the committee vote “no” on sending the bill to the Senate. She responded after the fact and here’s, in part, what she had to say:

The Affordable Care Act has imposed mandates on employers and religious institutions to provide health insurance to employees. The Act exempts churches from supporting procedures and actions with which [sic] fundamentally conflict with their beliefs, but no exemption exists for charities, schools, hospitals, businesses and universities. This bill is a response to these mandates.

This legislation creates a new act to protect religious liberty and rights of conscience of individuals and health facilities when participating in health care services and medical and scientific research. This protection extends to employment, education, training, participation in health care services, and in purchasing health insurance. It does not apply in situations of a public health emergency or in situations where immediate action is needed to avoid permanent physical harm to the patient where no other qualified health provider is available to provide the service. [Emphasis mine.]

So there it is, in black and white: It’s really about Obamacare. Based on news reported by various sources and comments from those who have signed a petition asking the Senate to vote NO on SB 136, there certainly doesn’t seem to be a widespread outcry from religious leaders and healthcare providers demanding this legislation. In fact, the majority of those speaking out oppose it because it’s a risk to the health of patients. Read the petition comments and you’ll see that many come from clergy members and healthcare providers.

Despite claims by the bill’s supporters that there are exemptions in the case of emergencies, the bill’s language in that regard is not clear enough to provide legitimate patient protections. As reported in the Detroit Free Press, Senator Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor), Democratic Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Health Policy, requested three amendments to strengthen those protections during the committee meeting. She was the lone vote in support of the amendments, demonstrating that patient care is clearly not a priority in this bill. Not even close.

Healthcare providers, present and future, understand the bill’s implications.
I received an email from a Michigan college student preparing for a career in social work who has significant concerns about this bill. The student raised some excellent points:

This bill is in opposition to the ethical code held by healthcare professionals. The fundamental objectives of this code of ethics are to maintain or enhance the overall quality of life, dignity and well-being of every individual needing healthcare service and to create a more equitable, accessible, effective and efficient healthcare system. It also ensures that a patient’s freedoms, autonomy, and overall health are protected. If passed, SB 136 could put patients who are already marginalized at great risk of losing access to quality healthcare if providers are permitted to discriminate based on personal beliefs. In my opinion, SB 136 insinuates that the concerns and health of patients are of lower priority than healthcare providers’ personal beliefs.

Let’s let the Michigan legislature know that we’re tired of them wasting our tax dollars putting up roadblocks to Obamacare. Let’s make sure they know that although everyone’s entitled to their religious views, those beliefs should never be a factor in making care decisions about patients. And most important of all, let’s tell them that patients have a right to receive the treatment they need without ever having to worry whether they’ll be turned away because of someone else’s religious or moral views.

If you oppose SB 136, add your name to this petition.

[Photo credit: Chris Savage | Eclectablog]