Fighting Discrimination

Religious Interference In Health Care Is Unwarranted, Unwanted And Unconstitutional

  Mary Cugini

We trust our doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to have our best interests in mind when making decisions about our health care. And we should not have to fear that we will be turned away or denied critical care because of a health provider’s religious beliefs. Unfortunately, many state legislators want to change that.

A flock of bills would allow medical practitioners, health care institutions, insurance companies and even employers to refuse to care for certain patients or pay for or provide certain kinds of health care because they have a religious objection. Enacting bills like these put patients’ health at risk and could allow a health care provider or insurer to claim a right to, for example:

  • deny gender-affirming care to a transgender person;
  • withhold information about emergency contraception from a victim of rape or incest seeking care;
  • refuse to treat a person experiencing a miscarriage;
  • refuse insurance coverage for PrEP or HIV treatment; or
  • withhold information about treatment options for a couple experiencing infertility.

In other words, this is just another attempt at discrimination under the guise of “religious freedom.” Religious freedom is a foundational American value that gives all of us the right to practice the religion of our choice or no religion at all. Religious freedom does not give us the right to harm others or deny them medical care.

This is not the first time we have seen policies like this pop up. In 2019, the Trump administration announced the dangerous Denial of Care Rule, which would have invited health care professionals to cite their religious or moral beliefs in order to deny services to patients. The implementation of the rule would have been a disaster. Imagine showing up at an emergency room in medical distress or calling an ambulance and having potentially life-saving care delayed or denied because someone on staff decides, for whatever reason, that helping you contradicts their religious beliefs. Luckily, because of lawsuits by Americans United and our allies, the Denial of Care rule was blocked by the federal courts and never went into effect.

The ripple effect of that attempt by the Trump administration, however, is still felt today. So far this year we have seen more than a dozen bills introduced across the country that mirror the language in the Denial of Care Rule in an effort to misuse religion to justify discrimination. Here is a rundown of just a few of these harmful and discriminatory bills we are fighting in states this session:

South Carolina: Under SB 811, health care workers, facilities, hospitals and insurers could refuse to participate in or pay for nearly any health care service. If passed, the bill would enable discrimination against patients—particularly women and LGBTQ patients. To make matters worse, this bill also would not require doctors to give a referral to ensure patients whom they turn away get the health care services they need. This would make it more difficult for South Carolinians, particularly those in rural areas or with limited options for providers, to access critical care. AU sent a letter urging state senators to reject the bill, but it’s still under consideration.

Florida: This bill is nearly identical to the one in South Carolina. But in more positive news, HB 747 died in committee. A member on the committee, state Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby (D-Hillsborough) warned that this bill “prioritizes the beliefs of health care providers above a patient’s well-being” and provides policies that “allow discrimination and endanger our most vulnerable.” Equality Florida explained, “No one should be denied critical medical care, and the impacts of the bill would have been catastrophic . . .” AU sent a letter urging state representatives to reject the bill and protect everyone’s access to health care.

Although none of these bills have passed yet this session, Arizona, Louisiana and New Hampshire are also still considering similar measures that could pass before the end of the year. We will continue to fight these bills wherever they crop up to protect patients’ access to care and ensure that legislatures don’t allow religious freedom to be misused to justify harm to others. Our government should protect patients’ rights, not try to authorize discrimination in our health care system.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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