Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed into law a bill on Friday that protects healthcare providers from discrimination if they refuse to provide medical services for religious or moral reasons.
The bill, known as the Medical Ethics and Diversity Act, states that doctors and other healthcare workers have the right not to participate in a healthcare service if it violates their conscience. It seeks to protect the right to conscience and prevents others from discriminating against a doctor who exercises his rights to conscience.
However, the law establishes an exception that prevents faith health workers from denying emergency medical care.
“I weighed this bill very carefully and it should be noted that I opposed the bill in the 2017 legislative session. The bill was amended to ensure that the exercise of the right to conscience is limited to ‘objections based on the awareness to a particular health service, ‘”Hutchinson said in a statement.
Hutchinson opposed a similar measure in 2017 that failed before a House committee. But he said the law he signed was stricter and limits objections to health care services in particular, without treating specific types of people.
“I support this right of conscience as long as emergency care is exempt and conscientious objection cannot be used to deny general health service to any class of people. More importantly, federal laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender and national origin continue to apply to the provision of health services, ”he added.
The law also creates an avenue for healthcare workers who have been discriminated against to sue for damages due to a violation of the law.
Opponents of the law, including the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union, have said it will allow doctors to refuse to offer a number of services for LGBTQIA + patients. The state Chamber of Commerce also opposed the measure, saying it sends the wrong message about the state.
They also argue that the types of medical care that could be interrupted include maintaining hormonal treatments for transgender patients who need hospital care for an infection or counseling about grief for a same-sex couple. They have also said that it could also be used to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control, or by physician assistants to override patients’ directives on end-of-life care.
ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Holly Dickson criticized the bill, but did not indicate whether the organization intends to challenge the law.
This comes a day after Hutchinson signed into law a bill that would ban biological men from participating in women’s sports. He has since been accused of targeting the LGBTQIA + community, however the governor has also made it his priority to pass a hate crime bill that aims to protect people who have been targeted because of their race. , ethnicity or sexual orientation. However, efforts to pass the bill have stalled in the Republican-majority legislature.