Ivory Coast mediator says latest talks have failed

Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo, left, shakes hands with Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, an African Union envoy sent to mediate the ongoing Ivorian political standoff, at the presidential palace in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Monday, Jan. 17, 2011.

As though there weren't enough ways to keep people in South Carolina from getting access to health care, now we have the Freedom of Conscience Act.

The bill under consideration this week by a S.C. Senate committee allows health care workers to deny patients certain reproductive procedures. When should someone's right to object to performing medical procedures infringe on someone else's right to get health care?

Apparently, whenever the medical professional has a conscientious objection.

That's not how this is supposed to work.

If you go into the medical profession, you don't get to treat some of the people, some of the time.

Freedom from treatment

As Renee Dudley's story pointed out, this could have the most serious ramifications for the people who have nowhere else to turn: people seeking health care in small or rural communities with few physicians, pharmacies or hospitals.

It could prevent women from getting health care through health care exchanges (though the state seems to be doing a pretty good job stalling on establishing those anyway).

The bill would make it illegal to sell an insurance policy covering abortion, even in the case of rape or incest. "This is government overreach and interference in a woman's personal, private decision-making," said Victoria Middleton, executive director of the South Carolina ACLU.

And that's only one facet.

Similar laws in other states have led to dangerous medical conditions for women, as the ACLU outlined in its testimony to the state Senate. The bill doesn't just restrict women's rights. It could constitute a complete denial of care.

"Should the bill pass, private insurance companies will be prohibited by the state from offering abortion coverage as part of a comprehensive plan -- effectively denying South Carolina women the right to purchase insurance coverage for abortion with their own money," said Sloane Whelan, S.C. public affairs coordinator for Planned Parenthood Health Systems.

Because I said so

How far can this extend? True, the bill in question applies only to health care workers, but it's not difficult to follow it down the continuum.

Suppose someone who tries to maintain a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise also works in a convenience store. An expanded version of the Freedom of Conscience Act, theoretically, would allow a clerk to refuse to sell somebody a glazed doughnut or beer because that would go against that person's commitment to a healthy lifestyle.

Absurd? Maybe, but no less so than somebody who takes an oath to do no harm as part of his or her medical career doing just that by putting someone's health at risk.

"Planned Parenthood believes there must be a balance between respecting providers' moral and religious beliefs and protecting the ability of patients to gain access to the health care they need," said Whelan. "This bill lacks that balance."

Balance seems awfully difficult to come by these days, especially in South Carolina.

Reach Digital Editor Melanie Balog at mbalog@postandcourier.com or 937-5565.