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House Panel Approves Conscience Objection Protection for Healthcare Workers

By a vote of 7 to 4, a House committee today approved legislation that would allow healthcare workers to refuse to do any procedure that violates their religious beliefs. The House bill is much broader than a bill that came before a senate committee Monday. KSMU's Missy Shelton reports.

The senate bill would protect only pharmacists who object to dispensing certain medication because doing so would violate their religious beliefs.

The pharmacists also would be protected if they declined to refer the prescription to another pharmacy that does carry the medication.

But a bill that came before a House committee goes much further.

Republican Representative Bryan Stevenson of Joplin is the sponsor.

And it's the breadth of the bill that caused concern among some committee members.

Democratic Representative Jeanette Mott Oxford says this could impact who can visit an incapacitated patient.

But Stevenson says his bill applies only to procedures, not to the people who are allowed to visit patients at a hospital.

One committee member compared the conscience objection for healthcare workers to the military conscience clause.

Democratic Representative Beth Low says the military and hospitals can't function properly if people can selectively choose which duties they will undertake.

The comparison to military service didn't hold with Ed Martin, an attorney with an anti-abortion group called Americans United for Life...He's representing several pharmacists across the country, including one in Missouri who are suing their employers over conscience objections that caused them to be fired.

Martin told the House committee that freedom is at stake.

Now that the bill has gained committee approval, it must go before the full House for consideration.