Home panel advances care-provider opt-out

A bill that would allow doctors, hospitals and insurers to refuse services that violate their consciences on Thursday was approved by the House’s Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on the second attempt.

Senator Kim Hammer, R-Benton Senate Bill 289 was amended to narrow the definition of conscience and provide additional employers. Legislators initially rejected the bill when it appeared before the panel last month.

Opponents of the bill, which includes disability and abortion rights groups, have said that the bill allows providers to discriminate against patients.

“This bill provides a solution and a means to protect the rights of health professionals,” said Rep. Brandt Smith, R-Jonesboro.

[RELATED: See complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of the Arkansas Legislature at arkansasonline.com/legislature]

Smith said the amendments took into account concerns raised at the committee’s first hearing.

The amended bill removes philosophical beliefs or principles from the definition of conscience, leaving behind religious, moral, and ethical beliefs or principles.

The new version of the bill also includes a section on protocols for health care employers to deal with practitioners who conscientiously refuse to participate in a health service.

It does not contain a provision prohibiting discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation that a Mississippi law Hammer compared the bill to.

The committee heard objection Thursday from Karen Musick, a co-founder of the Arkansas Abortion Support Network, who told the story of a pregnant woman and learned that the fetus had no heartbeat but was refused care by her provider for considering one Have abortion.

Mike Hernandez of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators also spoke out against the bill because it was unclear how it would affect social workers and counselors who work for school districts and would go into effect mid-school year.

Nobody in the audience spoke for the bill on Thursday.

The committee approved SB289 with a split vote. It is now going into the house for the exam.

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