Tuesday, September 27, 2005

To Catch the Conscience of the Right

A vile cadre of Assembly and Senate bills designed to gut various family planning initiatives was scheduled for debate today in the Wisconsin State Senate. Among these onerous bills is yet another incarnation of the so-called Conscience Clause, Assembly Bill 307, the actual text of which can be found at consciencelaws.org.

Essentially what the Conscience Clause legislation does is allow medical personnel and institutions to refuse to perform procedures or dispense medication that said personnel or institutions believe may be used to end a human life. The provider cannot be held liable for the consequences of the refusal nor can an individual be denied employment because of their intention to exercise their rights under the clause. In this current iteration of the bill in Wisconsin, the provider is also not required to transfer a prescription or refer the patient to another provider.

The first problem I have with this bill is that it does not clearly define terms like "euthanasia" or "abortion" as medical science does; instead the definitions are left to the beliefs and "creed" of the individual. The Anti-Choice lobby has re-defined (again) the term abortion to now mean anything which prevents a fertilized egg from implanting, a clear deviation from accepted medical science. Given that many forms of chemical contraceptives, including Plan B and Ortho-Tricyclene, can cause a fertilized egg not to implant, this bill essentially gives doctors and pharmacists the green light to deny birth control to women if said doctors or pharmacists choose to believe the Anti-Choice lobby's definition of abortion. This is an egregious violation of women's rights; rights which were fought for and won in the Supreme Court.

The second problem I have with this legislation is its failure to require a pharmacist or doctor to refer the patient to another provider. This effectively allows the doctor or pharmacist to completely force their moral views onto their patient, with no recourse! Such utter contempt for American values is breathtaking, though not surprising coming from the Anti-Choice crowd. Now, perhaps in more urban areas like Milwaukee or Madison, where clinics and pharmacies are plentiful, this refusal to transfer the prescription or refer the patient is not so much of a practical hardship. But out here, in rural Wisconsin, there may only be 1 pharmacy in a given town, if any at all. The patient is, at best, inconvenienced by a potentially lengthy drive to another town to receive their prescription or treatment. A patient lacking transportation could, in effect, have their medicine or medical care utterly denied them, again with no recourse.

The final problem I have with the Conscience Clause is the elevation of the moral beliefs of the individual over the service they have been paid to provide. Remember, a pharmacy not only cannot, for example, fire a pharmacist for refusing to dispense birth control but they cannot even ask that pharmacist in an interview whether or not he or she would dispense birth control if required. It is wrong to give one select group of people preferential treatment so that they may impose a certain moral guideline on others. By way of personal example, I find it immoral that corporations get such bountiful tax breaks. However, I don't have the option of refusing to take advantage of those tax breaks on behalf of my employer, nor should I. I am free to find another line of work if my conscience bothers me, and so are these few doctors and pharmacists that might wish to abuse their patients with this so-called Conscience Clause.

[It is worth noting that, as of today, not one, single physician's or pharmacist's advocacy group had registered its support for this bill. In fact, the one and only registered supporter of AB307 was Wisconsin Right To Life. Funny, in a "there goes the country" sort of way...]

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