House panel OKs abortion restrictions

February 17, 2011 

Legislation advanced Thursday in the General Assembly that would allow health-care workers to opt out of performing some work tasks and limit insurance coverage for elective abortions.

A subcommittee of House members approved a bill, dubbed the Freedom of Conscience Act, that allows hospital workers, nurses, pharmacists and others in the health-care field to give written notice to their employer if they morally object to performing certain work tasks.

Then, workers would be excused from perform those duties could not face disciplinary action or lose their job. The tasks would include administering birth control or emergency contraception, taking part in medical research that destroys an in-vitro human embryo or halting care of a dying person in a hospital.

“The bill has huge implications,” said Brandi Parrish, associate director of the New Morning Foundation, a group that works to decrease unintended pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted infections. “It ties the employers’ hands in terms of disciplinary action. It really stands in the way of patients getting the care that they need.”

Proponents, including the Columbia faith-based Palmetto Family Council, said S.C. law already protects workers who refuse to take part in abortions.

“This extends those rights to workers who oppose other kinds of procedures where conscience is an issue,” said Oran Smith, president of Family Council.

Lawmakers also approved:

Merging the Conscience Act with a second bill that would ban state health-care plans from covering elective abortions. A temporary budget proviso bans the coverage now. The bill also would limit private insurers to covering elective abortions only under supplemental plans that require a separate premium be paid.

Passed a “Born Alive” bill, which has passed several times in past years, extending the definition of “human” and “child” under S.C. law to include fetuses who survive abortions and fetuses born with a beating heart beat, working lungs and other signs of life in a hospital, at home or anywhere else.

The bills next move to the full House Judiciary Committee. To become law, they must pass the full House and Senate.

-- Gina Smith

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