A state Senate health committee is scheduled to consider a bill today that would allow health care workers and facilities to deny in vitro fertilization and other reproductive procedures "if the activity is contrary to the person's conscience."
The S.C. Senate Medical Affairs Committee will take up the "Freedom of Conscience Act," which the House passed last year.
The legislation's supporters say it would allow health workers to object -- without fear of being fired -- to procedures that include in vitro fertilization, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, human cloning and fetal tissue research.
"Whatever field, if you have a conscience objection to a procedure or practice, then you should not be discriminated against in the workplace," said Rep. Chip Limehouse, a Charleston Republican who co-sponsored the bill in the House.
But detractors, including the nonprofit New Morning Foundation of Columbia, say the wording of the legislation is too broad and possibly "undermines a person's right to make decisions about their own health."
It could jeopardize access to birth control, in vitro fertilization and emergency contraception -- especially for the rural poor, said Brandi Parrish Ellison, the group's associate director.
"A pharmacist could legally refuse to fill any prescription including birth control, HIV medications and even cancer medications based on personal values versus what is in the best interest of the patient," the New
Morning Foundation said in its statement.
The group said 13 states allow some health care providers to refuse to provide services related to contraception, and 18 states allow some providers to refuse to provide sterilization services.
Dr. John Schnorr of the Southeastern Fertility Center worried the bill's language could extend to general medicine services, such as vaccines.
The bill also states that insurers cannot be required to cover certain procedures and would prohibit employers and schools from discriminating against workers and students who refuse to perform them. Abortion is not specifically included in the bill because existing laws provide "conscience protections," according to a March news release from the bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester. Delleney could not be reached Tuesday.
Medical University of South Carolina spokeswoman Heather Woolwine said the bill would have little effect on the hospital's operations. MUSC staff "would not and do not discriminate against medical school applicants who would make those beliefs known in some way," Woolwine said.