A bill was passed in both chambers of Arkansas Legislation that would allow healthcare workers, hospitals, and insurers to refuse to provide services that violate their conscience.
Senate Bill 289 from Senator Kim Hammer, R-Benton, called the Medical Ethics and Diversity Act, would allow vendors to reject practices they disagree with because of their religious or moral beliefs.
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Co-sponsoring Rep. Brandt Smith, R-Jonesboro, said the bill provides a remedy for these vendors to defend themselves, stressing that the legislation is procedural, while opponents of the bill say it is unnecessary and leads to discrimination will.
“Why do you need a remedy for something that doesn’t happen?” Tippi McCullough, minority chairman of the House of Representatives, D-Little Rock, said. “There will be some who will use this to discriminate or feel uncomfortable about people in many ways. Take one of our freedoms, freedom of religion, to believe as you wish, and twist it to even rights Violating others’ medical rights is reprehensible. “
The bill will be sent back to the Senate for approval of Parliament-approved changes. If approved there, it goes to the governor’s desk.
Governor Asa Hutchinson previously said in a written statement that he is neutral on the bill.
Smith said SB289 was modeled on the laws of Mississippi and Illinois, none of which have faced legal challenge related to discrimination, including the American Civil Liberties Union.
Other lawmakers have noted the differences between these two laws and the Arkansas bill, including a provision in the Mississippi Act that prohibits discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation, among other things.
Smith said the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and Title VI of Arkansas prevent discrimination.
He added that the bill was being reviewed by Alliance Defending Freedom, a faith-based legal advocacy group.
Smith cited the United States Supreme Court’s Little Sisters of the Poor v Pennsylvania case in 2020 involving a Catholic charity that refused to provide contraceptive coverage to its employees. The court ruled in favor of the charity and upheld a rule of then-President Donald Trump’s administration.
“It was against the principles of their belief and conscience,” said Smith.
SB289 is endorsed by Arkansas Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe and the Arkansas Family Council, a conservative education and research organization.
“The current protection of conscience under state law is narrowly defined. It only protects a limited number of people,” said the organization in a blog post on Monday afternoon.
The bill is opposed by groups for reproductive and disability rights and the University of Arkansas for medical sciences. the local chapters of the National Association of Social Workers and the American College of Emergency Physicians; and the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, the president of which spoke against the bill last month on behalf of Walmart and Tyson Foods in committee.
SB289 was further developed on the second attempt last week by the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee. It was rejected for the first time in committee last month after opponents of the law said it could affect the dispensing of birth control and care for gays, lesbians and transgender patients.
Since then, the bill has been amended to narrow the definition of conscience, eliminate philosophical beliefs or principles, and leave religious, moral, or ethical beliefs or principles.
The amended bill also includes a section on protocols for employers of health care workers to deal with practitioners who conscientiously refuse to participate in a health service.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas said in a written statement after the law was passed that most states, including Arkansas, have rules that allow providers to refuse abortion and that no state has passed a law that allows health care providers and Allowing institutions to refuse to “offer a whole range of health services to every patient”.
At least one other state, South Carolina, is considering a similar bill during its 2021 session.
The House vote was 72-20 and was largely partisan. Two Republicans, Rep. Craig Christiansen, R-Bald Knob, and Joe Jett, R-Success, voted no.
Seven lawmakers did not vote: Representative Carol Dalby, R-Texarkana; Ken Ferguson, D-Pine Bluff; Charlene Fite, R-Van Buren; Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna; Mark Perry, Jacksonville, D; Joy Springer, D-Little Rock; and DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio.
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