Special Session Priority – Conscience Protections for Health Care Professionals

The Regular Session of the 87th Texas Legislature can aptly be described as a great victory for preborn children and a devastating loss for vulnerable patients. Texas Right to Life had six Pro-Life Priorities for the 87th Legislature, only two of which were fully accomplished. While the passage of the Texas Heartbeat Act and the increased funding allocated to the life-affirming Alternatives to Abortion program are victories to celebrate, our fight to protect each innocent human life is far from finished. As Governor Abbott calls legislators back to Austin for multiple special sessions, our state must not squander these opportunities to protect even more innocent human lives by passing the remaining Pro-Life Priorities, including protecting the conscience of medical professionals.

Health care professionals are increasingly facing pressure to either perform medical procedures with which they fundamentally disagree or leave the medical profession. They should not be treated as mere vending machines for services, leaving them unable to maintain and be guided by their sincerely held beliefs within their scope of practice. Texas medical professionals should not feel forced to choose between adhering to their moral convictions or leaving their profession. 

While this was a Pro-Life Priority in the Regular Session of the 87th Legislature, this vital piece of legislation failed to pass either chamber. Thankfully, the Texas Legislature will have to come back to Austin for multiple special sessions to address unfinished business, starting July 8. Texas Right to Life is urging Pro-Life Texans to ask Governor Greg Abbott to add conscience protections to the special session call. 

Currently, there is a patchwork of federal and state conscience protection provisions in place, but Texas lacks an overarching protection that addresses all health care services for all health care professionals. At the state-level, there are only two Texas laws on conscience protections for health care professionals, focusing solely on abortion. 

As a state, we must protect medical professionals from fleeing their health care specialties because they feel forced to act against their moral convictions. All medical professionals should be able to practice their specialty and simultaneously have the right to conscientiously object to certain procedures, training, or medical decisions. This is the goal of this Pro-Life priority legislation, the Texas Health Care Conscience Act. 

During the Regular Session of the 87th Texas Legislature, this bill did not pass. House Bill 1424 by Representative Tom Oliverson, M.D. (R – Cypress) was voted out of the House Committee on Public Health with bipartisan support. However, inexplicable delays in the House Committee on Calendars left the bill languishing behind hundreds of other bills on the House floor on the last possible day. And in the Senate, Senate Bill 1674 by Senator Bob Hall (R – Edgewood) never received a committee hearing. Sadly, this priority policy was met with apathy throughout the Capitol, and in the short five-month regular session, apathy kills bills. 

However, Governor Abbott has announced there will be at least two special sessions, which presents another opportunity for Texas to protect the consciences of our health care workers. This bill is necessary now more than ever. Under the Biden-Harris Administration, we can expect the limited federal conscience protections to go unenforced or even be repealed. Knowing that we will be left undefended by those in Washington, D.C., Texas needs strong state-level protections in place to safeguard the consciences of our Texas health care professionals. 

The Texas Health Care Conscience Act will provide state-level enforcement to protect the ethical convictions of all health care professionals, balancing the practice of their specialty, their individual moral beliefs, and patients’ rights. Specifically, the bill would:

  • Enact clear protections for all health care workers who object to any elective training, procedure, or medical decision that violates their conscience;
  • Establish how health care facilities should accommodate medical professionals when a conscientious objection is raised to emergency and non-elective medical interventions, while safeguarding patient access to treatment and protecting against discrimination;
  • Broaden protections against adverse action, including in employment, licensing, and benefits; and
  • Ensure that all medical professionals, no matter their positions or credentials, are not discriminated against or subject to adverse action because of their religious or other moral convictions.

For instance, this bill would protect a pharmacist who does not want to dispense emergency contraception because he or she believes the medication acts as an abortifacient, or a physician who does not want to participate in removing or deactivating a patient’s pacemaker.

Protection of conscience for health care providers ensures diversity and innovation amongst those working in health care, protects certain populations that might be disproportionately adversely affected by lack of conscience protections, such as women or minorities, and assures both the quantity and quality of health care professionals. 

As we face an increasingly hostile environment from Washington, D.C., the Texas Legislature has another chance to safeguard the consciences of our health care professionals and ensure they are protected in adhering to their deeply held convictions while simultaneously providing quality health care to their patients. Now, Governor Abbott must include this Pro-Life Priority on his special session call so the Legislature can protect the consciences of our Texas medical professionals. 

Sign the petition today urging Governor Abbott to place this crucial priority defending the rights of Texas health care workers on his special session agenda!