Moral objections bill not healthy and it’s also very bad policy

It’s tempting to snipe at Senate Bill 136, which would allow health care providers to opt out of performing any service on the ground of moral objection, with examples of the absurd: What if a Christian Scientist became a doctor and refused to provide medical treatment to anyone?

What if a conspiracy theorist declined to offer any pharmaceutical remedies? What if an Amish doctor refused to treat patients if the treatment required modern technology?

No doubt, any of those outcomes could occur, if the bill became law. But none is likely.

The far more certain consequence of the bill would be a kind of sin tax on routine medical care, enabled by right-wing GOP lawmakers, to allow medical professionals to deny treatment based on their distaste for lifestyle choices – namely, sexual activity.

And the people who will suffer, should SB 136 become law, will be sexually active women and homosexuals.

That’s why this is awful policy-making.

A 30-year-old state law already allows health care providers who have moral objections to opt out of abortion services. So that’s not what this is about.

It’s that the same institutional forces that oppose abortion often disapprove of birth control, as well.

And this latest bill takes direct aim at contraception, which has been used by 99 percent of American women, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks such statistics.

SB 136 follows a failed attempt to pass the same kind of legislation in last winter’s lame-duck session.

In December, the bill never came to a vote in the state House. But this year’s version, identical to the legislation proposed last fall, seems to be garnering support. The bill passed the Senate Health Policy Committee on a 5-1 vote late last month.

For metro Detroiters, finding a new health care provider would be inconvenient but not impossible. But medical ethicists rightly note that in Michigan’s vast rural areas, finding a new doctor isn’t so easy.

And clinics that employ workers who won’t perform services would have their hands tied: SB 136 protects objecting health care workers from being fired.

Republican lawmakers are meddling here with a sacrosanct relationship: the one between a patient and his or her health care provider, trying to tip the scales against patients being able to get the care they need.

This law would allow health care workers to lord their beliefs over citizens who, in many cases, have few other available health care options.

There’s no need to invoke the absurd possibilities to see that enacting this policy would allow health care workers to violate the central tenet of medical ethics: First, do no harm.