Bill that would allow medical professionals to deny care based on conscience clears hurdle in House

By: - February 6, 2023 8:20 pm

Rep. Amy Regier, R-Kalispell, closes on HB 303 on the House Floor on Feb. 6, 2023. (Photo by Nicole Girten/Daily Montanan)

House Bill 303, which would allow medical professionals to refuse medical service based on conscience, passed second reading 65-35 in the House on Monday.

“I’d like my health care provider to have a conscience,” said Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Libby, in support of the bill.

Sponsor Rep. Amy Regier, R-Kalispell, said on the floor that the bill, which will need to pass third reading before heading to the Senate, was aimed not at particular persons, but at procedures, as she had in committee. She listed objections “concerning lifestyle, elective procedures and treatments,” like assisted suicide, gene editing, dispensing marijuana or opioids and abortion.

However, several Democrats spoke in opposition to the bill, the first being Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D- Missoula, the first trans woman elected to the statehouse who serves on the House Judiciary Committee where the bill was heard last week. Medical professionals and organizations had opposed it in committee.

Zephyr said Regier’s characterization the bill was focused on procedures and not people doesn’t accurately reflect its broad language, including definitions for health care service that span from research to any service performed or provided by a medical practitioner.

Zephyr spoke to the impact the bill could have on the trans community, as she and advocates did in committee. She said that the likely consequence would be denial will be based on diagnosis.

“That is inherently discriminatory, because you cannot parse my diagnoses from who I am,” she said. “To deny me based on my diagnosis of gender dysphoria is to deny me based on my being a trans woman.”

Proponents said the bill allows medical professionals to live their values, with Regier citing it as a way to help retain healthcare workers in the state.

Rep. Jerry Schillinger, R-Circle, said in an “oftentimes profit driven world,” healthcare providers who hold traditional values need protection.

Rep. Laura Smith, D-Helena, said she was rising in opposition to the bill due to the impact on parental rights. She said parents would have less ability to advocate for family members in the hospital, giving the example of a family advocating for an unconscious patient where medical staff initially denied a procedure to help her breathe due to concerns over suffering. In Smith’s telling, the young girl made a full recovery after the family pushed for care.

“I think we all have to be honest with ourselves that this is not something that couldn’t fall upon any of us in our lives, our kids or our grandkids,” Smith said.

Rising as a proponent, Rep. Kerri Seekins-Crowe, R-Billings, said her healthcare provider stopped providing service to her after a vote she had taken during the 2021 session on wolves.

“And even though it was a blow to me, because I really did like the healthcare I was getting from her, I really do believe …that she has the right to not to give me care if she believes that strongly,” she said. “Her oath of ‘do no harm,’ she can no longer uphold that if that’s what she believed in.”

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Nicole Girten
Nicole Girten

Nicole Girten is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune as a government watchdog reporter. She holds a degree from Florida State University and a Master of Science from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.