COLUMBIA, South Carolina, March 30, 2011 ( – Lawmakers in South Carolina’s House of Representatives have passed a new freedom of conscience bill that both prohibits insurance companies in the state from paying for elective abortions and prevents health care providers from being punished for refusing to violate their pro-life beliefs.

The measure, HB 3408, was approved Tuesday in the state House by a 69-41 majority. After a third reading Wednesday, it will head to the state Senate for approval.

“We do not need to make pro-life people choose between a career in the health care field and their conscience,” said Rep. Greg Delleney (R-Chester), the chief sponsor of the bill, in a statement. “Also with the federal opt out provision, we need to make sure that people who believe in the sanctity of life don’t have to pay for someone else’s elective abortions.”

The first part of the “Freedom of Conscience Act” states that health care facilities, health insurers, pharmacists, medical professionals, and their respective employees do not have to provide services or admit patients relating to abortion, the destruction of or experimentation on human embryos, cloning, transplants using aborted fetal tissue, or procedures that intentionally cause the death of a patient (such as euthanasia). 

The law also states that health plans “must accommodate the conscientious objection of a purchaser, or of an individual or institutional health care provider” when those specific acts violate their consciences.

It also bans health coverage for elective abortions, unless a separate abortion coverage policy is purchased, in order to guarantee that the money of pro-life individuals does not subsidize the taking of an unborn child’s life.

The only exception is when abortion is determined to be the only procedure available to save a mother from imminent death. The law says the decision to abort cannot be based on any prediction that the mother would engage in dangerous, life-risking behavior if she were to have a child.

South Carolina Citizens for Life reported that pro-life House members had to defeat 20 amendments over the course of three hours of debate that would have weakened the opt-out bill.

“I think today that we have now protected a true choice decision that allows people the option not to co-mingle tax funds or private funds that may go to the destruction of innocent human life,” Lisa Van Riper, president of South Carolina Citizens for Life, stated.

According to the Associated Press, Planned Parenthood was piqued by the bill, objecting that separate abortion coverage policies do not exist, and too few women would sign up for them anyway.

The ability of states to opt out of abortion coverage was part of a compromise written into the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), the national health care reform law signed into law by President Barack Obama in March 2010.

Already Arizona, Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri, Louisiana, and Oklahoma have approved similar opt out legislation, while other state legislatures are also working on their own versions.

The state House also approved a born-alive infant protection bill (HB 3403), which mandates that abortionists take measures to save an unborn child that is born alive during a failed abortion procedure.

The House has passed that legislation several times in recent years, but it later died in the state Senate.


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