LGBTQ Equality

New Arkansas Law Fosters Religious Interference In Health Care

  Rob Boston

The furor over Georgia’s new truly appalling voter suppression law has overshadowed a recently passed measure in Arkansas that’s also quite disturbing.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) has signed a new law that allows health care workers to refuse service based on religious or moral objections. The ramifications could be widespread.

The measure is clearly targeted at members of the LGBTQ community and is among several mean-spirited bills pending in a number of states that seek to undermine LGBTQ rights. (Many of them are aimed at the transgender community.) Under this new law, health care workers and institutions such as hospitals will now have the right to refuse to participate in non-emergency forms of care.

Supporters say such laws protect the right of “conscience,” but all they really do is put people’s lives at risk. Are you comfortable with allowing individual health care workers to make snap judgments on what constitutes a “medical emergency”?  Do we really want private decisions about our health care subjected to someone’s religious veto – a person we may not even know?

That’s clearly not what Americans want, but in 2019, the Trump administration attempted to apply a version of this “denial of care” rule nationwide anyway. At the time, AU cited several examples of what could happen if the rule were allowed to stand:

  • An interracial or interfaith couple seeking fertility treatments could be turned away by a hospital receptionist who objects to their marriage.
  • An assisted-living facility nurse could refuse to assist an elderly resident whose oxygen tank is malfunctioning because the patient displays symbols of a non-Christian faith in her room.
  • A pediatrician could refuse to treat a sick child because his parents are gay or transgender.

Americans United and other organizations immediately challenged the rule in court – and we won. U.S. District Judge William Alsup blocked the rule from going into effect, declaring, “When a rule is so saturated with error, as here, there is no point in trying to sever the problematic provisions. The whole rule must go.” (Two other federal courts also invalidated the rule.) AU has urged the Biden administration to repeal the rule entirely.

Americans deserve to receive health care untainted by religious bias. Measures like Arkansas’ new law only serve to drag us backward while causing real harm to real people.

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