Patients’ Right to Abortion Information Act

Summary: The Patients’ Right to Abortion Information Act would prevent any health care facility from limiting a physician’s or other health care provider’s ability to provide medically accurate and comprehensive information to a patient, limiting the ability to make referrals, or denying services when that could put a patient’s life or health in danger.

Background Summary

No refusal to provide health care services should ever be allowed to increase a patient’s risk of medical complications, impair a patient’s health, or cause undue delay in accessing any medical service. Pursuant to federal and state law, doctors and health care institutions can refuse to provide abortion as well as some other reproductive health care services. No denial of services should become a denial of information.

Some health care facilities have ordered doctors not to discuss abortion, even when the continuation of a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life. In Colorado, for example, a hospital disciplined a physician for discussing the option of abortion with a woman who showed signs of Marfan syndrome, a condition where pregnancy can kill the woman. The doctor was told never to mention abortion again, regardless of the circumstances.

Some heath care facilities, as part of a refusal to provide care, have compelled doctors to delay the delivery of accurate and medically important information to patients. Other facilities have compelled doctors to delay providing the patient with her own medical records. A hospital’s refusal of services should not be used as a pretext for blocking or denying patients’ own rights to care.

Some health care facilities that object to abortion will penalize health care professionals who support abortion. For example, doctors have been denied hospital admitting privileges simply because they perform abortions in other medical facilities.

Professional medical associations make it clear that every health care provider has a duty to act in the best interest of the patient and, above all, to do no harm. That means that even when a hospital seeks to refuse a particular medical service, it is the physician’s ethical duty to:

  • Provide the patient with full, accurate and unbiased information so she can make informed decisions about her health care;
  • Provide adequate and timely notice to patients, employers and others who will be affected by a refusal of care; and
  • Provide access to medical services in emergency circumstances.

The state must ensure that patients are not harmed or disadvantaged when health care facilities refuse to provide reproductive health care. And the state must ensure that doctors and other medical professionals are protected from discrimination when they are employed at a facility that refuses to provide the full range of reproductive health services.


Model Legislation

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE

This Act shall be called the “Patients’ Right to Abortion Information Act.”

SECTION 2. FINDINGS AND PURPOSE

(A) FINDINGS—The legislature finds that:

1)      Some hospitals attempt to limit the ability of doctors and other medical professionals to use their own medical judgment when a patient seeks or needs reproductive health care.

2)      No such attempts should ever be allowed to increase a patient’s risk of medical complications, impair a patient’s health, or cause undue delay in accessing any medical service.

3)      The state must ensure that health care facilities cannot interfere with a physician’s or other health care provider’s independent ability to provide medically accurate and comprehensive information to a patient, cannot limit a medical professional’s ability to make referrals, or deny medical services when that could put a patient’s life or health in danger.

(B) PURPOSE—This law is enacted to protect the health, safety and welfare of the patients of health care facilities which refuse to provide reproductive healthcare services.

SECTION 3. DELIVERY OF HEALTH CARE SERVICES AND INFORMATION

After section XXX, the following new section XXX shall be inserted:

[Bill drafting note: Place this inside any existing state refusal provision.]

(A) DEFINITIONS—In this section:

1)      “Health care facility” means any public or private hospital, clinic, center, medical school, medical training institution, laboratory or diagnostic facility, physician’s office, infirmary, dispensary, ambulatory surgical treatment center or any other institution or location where health services are provided to any person.

2)      “Medically accurate” means information that is:

a)      Verified or supported by the weight of peer reviewed medical research conducted in compliance with accepted scientific methods;

b)      Recognized as correct and objective by leading medical organizations with relevant expertise; or

c)      Recommended by or affirmed in the medical practice guidelines of a nationally recognized accrediting organization.

3)      “Reproductive health services” means contraception, abortion, treatment of ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage management, assisted reproductive technology including infertility treatment, screening and treatment of sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS, pregnancy and post-natal care, and sterilization.

(B) NO INTERFERENCE WITH PROFESSIONAL CARE

1)      A health care facility cannot limit or otherwise interfere with a physician’s or other health care provider’s independent professional judgment concerning the practice of medicine or the diagnosis or treatment of a patient, including but not limited to:

a)      The health care facility cannot limit a health care provider’s duty, based on the standard of care, to provide medically accurate and comprehensive information to a patient about his or her health status, including diagnosis, prognosis, recommended treatment and any potential risks to the health or life of the patient.

b)      The health care facility cannot limit a health care provider’s referrals to another health care facility nor limit the timing of the referrals.

c)      The health care facility cannot prohibit health care providers from providing reproductive health services in that health care facility when a denial of those services would pose a serious risk to a patient’s life or health.

2)      A health care facility cannot impose any disadvantage, disciplinary action, retaliatory action, or any other penalty upon a physician or other healthcare professional because he or she agrees to or participates in providing any reproductive health service.

3)      A health care facility must provide reproductive health services in cases in which there is a serious risk to an individual’s life or health.

(C) ENFORCEMENT

The Attorney General, as well as any aggrieved health care professional or patient, may initiate a civil action in a court of competent jurisdiction to enjoin further violations, or to recover damages sustained as a result of the violation of this section, or both, together with the costs of suit including reasonable attorneys’ fees.

SECTION 4. REPEAL

Section XXX is hereby repealed. [Place here any provisions of existing law that are inconsistent with this Act.]

SECTION 5. SEVERABILITY

The provisions of this Act shall be severable, and if any phrase, clause, sentence or provision is declared to be invalid, is preempted by federal law or regulation, or results in noncompliance with federal requirements that are a condition to the allocation of federal funds to the state, those words are inapplicable and the validity of the remainder of this Act shall not be affected.

SECTION 6. EFFECTIVE DATE

This Act shall take effect on XXXX 1, 2016.

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