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'Medical Conscience' Bill Receives 1st-Round Approval From Mo. House

The Missouri House has given first-round approval to legislation that would allow medical workers to refuse to take part in procedures that violate their religious or ethical beliefs.

The sponsor, House Speaker Tim Jones(R, Eureka), says protecting the rights of workers is at the heart of House Bill 457.

“We want to encourage those people in the health care field and give them a shield, so they can have an opt-out, with proper notice, to their employer,” Jones said.

Jones added that the bill would require health care workers who object to participating in a medical procedure to provide “reasonable notice” ahead of time.  State Representative Stacey Newman (D, Richmond Heights) blasted the bill on the House floor, calling it an attack on women.

“This bill deals with rape victims being potentially denied emergency contraception in emergency rooms…women being denied care at the moment they exactly need it," Newman said.  "The religious liberty of a patient, (the) religious liberty of a woman and her family, is totally ignored in this.”

Newman went further, saying she was offended by the proposed new law.

"This bill terrorizes rape victims," Newman said during floor debate.  "Is this what we’re gonna do?  This is the Todd Akin bill of the session? Come on!”

That comment brought a protest from State Representative Joe Don McGaugh (R, Carrollton), who accused Newman of making derogatory statements and asked that she sit down.  The Speaker-on-duty ordered Newman to stick to the subject of the bill, but otherwise allowed her to continue speaking.

The bill was perfected on a 118-42 vote, mostly along party lines.  Jones later commented, via Twitter, that the results were "overwhelming" and "bipartisan," and that "Missouri House women" in "both parties, by (a) vote of 21-17, voted today for health care worker conscience rights...the women of the Missouri House have spoken."

The bill needs one more vote by the full House before moving to the Missouri Senate.

Marshall Griffin is the Statehouse reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.
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