This vote was on an amendment by Tom Coburn, R-Okla., that would amend any future health care overhaul to include a clause prohibiting discrimination against health care providers who refuse to perform certain services or prescribe certain drugs if doing so would violate their moral or religious beliefs. The amendment was offered to the budget resolution that serves as the blueprint for Congress’ budget priorities in fiscal 2010. The budget resolution sets overall spending targets for the Appropriations committees and outlines other budget rules.
Coburn asked his fellow senators to imagine “you no longer get to vote your conscience, that a Federal bureaucrat will tell you what you can and cannot do.”
“The fact is, we have wonderful physicians in this country who make decisions every day based on a multitude of factors, including what they think in their conscience is right. This is an amendment which simply protects that right, just as you would want the right for your vote in this body to be protected,” Coburn said.
Coburn’s amendment was spurred in part by recent news reports about pro-life pharmacists who have refused to dispense “Plan B,” commonly referred to as the morning-after pill, to women seeking it. Though it is available without a prescription, women must prove that they are over 18 in order to obtain it without doctor authorization.
Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Coburn’s amendment would go far beyond doctors and stipulate that anyone in a health care clinic or hospital could refuse health care for women, including that involving critical services.
“It jeopardizes Federal family planning services, Medicaid … and it undermines State laws that guarantee women access to contraceptive services,” Murray said. “This amendment puts ideology ahead of science and ahead of women’s health care. Federal law already permits medical professionals to decline to assist in abortions based on their religious beliefs. But stopping this regulation will not change that. This amendment goes way too far and ignores the needs of patients and denies women reproductive health care services.”
By a vote of 41-56, the amendment was rejected. All but three Republicans present voted for the amendment. All but three Democrats present voted against the amendment. The end result is that the measure went forward without language that would have added a prohibition to any future health care overhaul stipulating that health care providers cannot be discriminated against or coerced into performing procedures or dispensing drugs if that act violated their moral or religious beliefs.