News Release: Catholic Conference Calls on Legislature to Adopt ‘Religious Liberty and Conscience Protection Act’

Measure Strikes Balance Between Conscience Rights and Employer Needs

November 29, 2012

(Lansing)—Individuals and providers in the health care profession must not be forced to pay for or provide services that violate their religious beliefs, Michigan Catholic Conference stated today in support of Senate Bill 975, the “Religious Liberty and Conscience Protection Act.” Sponsored by Senator John Moolenaar (R-Midland), SB 975, which passed the Senate Health Policy Committee this afternoon 6-1, protects the religious liberty rights of health care institutions and individuals while at the same time provides flexibility for employers to meet their health care needs.

“In addition to the HHS mandate at the federal level, bills introduced in past legislative sessions here in Michigan highlight the need for conscience protections for individuals and providers,” said Tom Hickson, Michigan Catholic Conference Vice President for Public Policy and Advocacy. “Through a conscience protection policy included in this bill, Senate Bill 975 strikes a reasonable balance between protecting the conscience rights of an employee and the health care needs of the employer.”

Measures introduced in past legislative sessions in Michigan have sought to require providers, payers or facilities to participate in services or procedures that violate their consciences. Those efforts have included, for example, forcing religious employers to include abortion-inducing drugs in their health benefit plans, requiring pharmacists to dispense objectionable prescriptions, and forcing faith based hospitals to dispense medication without consideration of existing policies that uphold the dignity of human life.

Legislation that would have prohibited such discrimination while providing religious liberty protections moved through the Michigan House of Representatives in 2005 with strong bipartisan support, but stalled in a Senate committee. A statewide religious liberty and conscience protection policy, such as Senate Bill 975, would provide religious liberty protections to faith based employers and employees who provide services in the health care field.

“Faith based organizations have an extraordinary track record of providing health care to the most vulnerable populations in the state, yet efforts are underway to strip those institutions of their right to operate in the health care field according to their faith tradition,” said Hickson.

Senate Bill 975 sets the circumstances by which a religious accommodation would not apply, such as when immediate action is required and no other qualified health providers are available, or if the request for accommodation is made based on a patient’s status, coverage or ability to pay. The legislation would protect a health facility, payer or provider who objected to a health care service as a matter of conscience from civil, criminal and administrative liability or from discrimination. In its entirety, the “Religious Liberty and Conscience Protection Act” allows for individuals, payers and providers in the health care field to operate according to their conscience without fear of government intrusion or discrimination.

Senate Bill 975 now awaits consideration from the full Senate.

Michigan Catholic Conference is the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state.

-- 30 --