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Federal Refusal Clause

Location: Washington, DC

FEDERAL REFUSAL CLAUSE -- (Senate - April 26, 2005)

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I oppose the Federal refusal clause. The Republican leadership was wrong to include such a broad refusal clause in the fiscal year 2005 Omnibus Appropriations bill. The clause was never voted on by the Senate Appropriations Committee; it was inserted into the bill behind closed doors.

The clause would allow health care firms to refuse to comply with existing Federal, State, and local laws and regulations that pertain to abortion services, counseling, and referrals.

Supporters of the clause claim it simply clarifies existing law. But far from clarifying it, sweeping new changes would be enacted that would be devastating to women's health.

The reality is that no Federal law forces individuals to provide abortion care. The Church amendment, adopted in 1973, enacted a new refusal clause. It explicitly protects individuals who object to providing abortion because of their religious beliefs or moral convictions. Broader refusal clauses, such as the Federal refusal clause, exempt a wide range of organizations, including health plans and hospitals, most of which not only have a secular purpose but also employ and serve individuals who do not share those organizations' religious beliefs.

The Federal refusal clause also discourages States from enforcing its own policies, laws and regulations to protect access to abortion services and information. Republicans continually attack Democrats as proponents of big government who undermine State rights. Yet that is exactly what the Federal refusal clause does.

Forty-six States, including Massachusetts, already have laws that permit certain medical personnel, health facilities, and institutions to refuse to participate in abortion because of their moral or religious beliefs.

We don't need the Federal refusal clause to protect individuals and health care organizations that oppose abortion, we already have that. It exists in both Federal and State laws. Proponents want the Federal refusal clause for one reason--to deny access and information to as many women as possible.

Health care corporations now have the right to gag their doctors and other health care providers. The clause defines ``discrimination'' as any requirement that a medical service provider inform a woman about her option to seek an abortion--or even refer her to another plan for that information. It's ridiculous to say that giving a woman full information about her medical options is discrimination.

The Federal refusal clause also restricts low-income women's access to abortion services, including information about abortion. It could prohibit the Federal Government from enforcing the requirement that Title X funded family planning clinics provide a woman facing an unintended pregnancy with an abortion referral when she requests one. We will be taking a giant step backward if we don't repeal this refusal clause.

In addition, under the ``Hyde Amendment,'' States are required to provide Medicaid coverage for abortions in cases of rape, incest, or where pregnancy endangers a women's life. The Federal refusal clause, however, could prevent states from requiring that Medicaid HMOs provide or pay for these abortions.

Current law states that low-income women should not be denied critical medical care. Why do we want to change that? What kind of signal are we sending? Women who have suffered through the trauma of rape or incest deserve our help, not an extra burden.

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act guarantees that a woman who needs an emergency abortion procedure to save her life won't be turned away. Yet the Federal refusal clause could allow hospitals to turn away women in these dire circumstances. For a woman in a rural area, with only one hospital, her life itself may be in danger if the hospital refuses to admit her.

It is wrong to deny women access to necessary and urgently needed medical procedures. The Federal refusal clause should never have been included in the fiscal year 2005 Omnibus Appropriations bill, and I commend Senator Boxer for speaking against this provision.


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