On July seventh Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal signed into law House Bill 517 sponsored by Democratic State Representative Bernard LeBas.[i]The bill expands Louisiana's ”conscience protection" for healthcare workers beyond abortion, adding several services to the list that employees can refuse to perform, based on moral or religious reasons, with assurances of job protection and legal immunity. These additional services include distributing "abortifacient drugs," working on human embryonic stem-cell research or cloning, and participating in euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide.[ii] The provision of the bill that refers to abortifacient drugs is intended to include emergency contraception, or “the morning after pill” but not other forms of birth control.[iii]
The bill is backed by social conservatives and religious activists like Dr. Al Krotoski, a retired doctor of internal medicine. Dr. Krotoski says the law is, “a good start,” and that it protects doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals who don't want to perform these procedures for personal reasons.[iv]
Many, however, find the bill problematic. Both Planned Parenthood and the ACLU say that the new restrictions will hinder the ability of patients to receive accurate information and timely services. Baton Rouge neurologist Dr. Steven Zuckerman agrees stating, “The law violates a clear line and doctors shouldn't bring morality or religion into an exam room.” Dr. Zuckerman goes on to say that the law will inevitably restrict patients' access to certain procedures or medical treatments like abortion and the morning after pill, which are not illegal.[v]
Others point out that the bill could have an impact that reaches far beyond the issues its conservative supporters intended to address. Marjorie Esman of the ACLU of Louisiana used this example: “some religions oppose immunization shots for children. In a rural area, a doctor refusing to do immunizations could lead to a school being temporarily shut down.”[vi]
Twelve other states, including California, Illinois, New Jersey, and Washington, have introduced similar bills this legislative session, yet Arizona remains the only other state poised to possibly pass such legislation.[vii] Advocates on the ground in these states will continue to monitor legislation as varied conscience laws come into place.
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