House members voted 71 to 26 in favor of the Health Care Rights of Conscience Act, a bill that would allow health care workers to refuse to participate in sterilizations, stem cell research or human cloning if they file a notice with their employer announcing that they object to the procedures on moral grounds. The bill would also allow health care workers to opt out of providing abortion, though the bill states the rule would not actually apply to abortion clinics.
"I just want to protect our health care providers and workers from having to do something that violated their conscience," said Rep. Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden, the bill's sponsor.
Nordgren repeated those words multiple times over roughly two hours of questioning from Democratic House members opposed to the bill. Democrats grilled Nordgren asking her to show where there was a problem that the bill would fix.
"I don't think this is an issue," said Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham. "I don't think there's any physician that's been forced to do anything they don't want to do."
Nordgren said she had a friend who is a healthcare worker, and whose Catholic faith would prohibit her from performing sterilizations.
Democrats claimed the bill was being brought primarily to regulate women's health decisions.
"Does this cover any service a man may need?" asked Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa. Nordgren countered that it would cover both tubal ligations and vasectomies — sterilizations for both men and women.
Asked why the bill contained an exception for abortion clinics, Nordgren said it was clear that people who went to work for abortion clinics had already shown they have no objections.
"That would be crazy, to go to work at an abortion clinic and say 'I don't want to do abortions,'" she said.
England asked her if the bill would allow someone to deny the Plan B emergency contraceptive pill to a woman who'd been raped and feared she might be pregnant.
"This bill does not address that particular situation," Nordgren said.
Democrats also said the rights-of-conscience issue may already be covered by federal law. According to documents from the Department of Health and Human Services, health care providers that accept federal funding are already prohibited from requiring workers to participate in abortion or sterilization.
The bill still requires a vote in the Senate before it can become law.
Capitol & statewide correspondent Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.
How they voted:
Health Care Rights of Conscience Act
(A "yes" vote would allow health care providers to opt out of some procedures.)
Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston -- No
Koven. L. Brown, R-Jacksonville -- Yes
Steve Hurst, R-Munford -- Yes
Richard Laird, I-Roanoke -- Yes
Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden -- Yes
Randy Wood, R-Saks -- Yes