Arkansas Lege Wants Anyone Involved With Your Healthcare To Be Free To Discriminate Against You
Last week, we reported that the Arkansas Senate had passed a bill that would require anyone seeking an abortion to call a special abortion hotline in order to be talked out of having an abortion and/or allow the Arkansas government to keep track of their personal healthcare decisions. You might not think it humanly possible for them to then pass a bill this week that is somehow just as (or more!) horrifying, but you would be wrong. So very, very wrong.
What did they do? Did they pass a bill abolishing abortion? Well, yes, actually. Just the other day. But it's unlikely to take unless they can get it to the Supreme Court.
But also this week, the Arkansas Senate passed another bill titled the "Medical Ethics and Diversity Act." That sounds nice, huh? Not even sort of. Rather than having anything to do with "medical ethics" or "diversity" as we might define them, this is mostly one of those conscience bills, for people whose consciences are extremely homophobic, misogynistic, or otherwise bigoted. Like, instead of Jiminy Crickett, they've got Jiminy Bakker up there telling them that they must not bake a cake for a gay couple.
The "Medical Ethics and Diversity Act," however, goes well beyond many of the "conscience" laws we've seen before, as it allows literally everyone who works in the healthcare field and also anyone who pays for people's health care to discriminate against people in any manner they choose, refuse to provide or pay for any service, so long as they say it's their "conscience" making them do it.
Perhaps most galling is that they are framing it as a way to prevent discrimination against those who wish to discriminate, and a way to ensure "diversity" among medical staff, so that bigots are properly represented.
The law defines "discrimination" as taking any action against someone at all, and then says that medical professionals should not be discriminated against for their "religious, moral, ethical, or philosophical beliefs."
The bill lists protected health care professionals including doctors and nurses and any "individual who furnishes or assists in the provision of a healthcare service" including social workers and pharmacists.
The bill even mentions employers who provide health care as part of their employees' compensation – even they can ask that employees be denied a specific medical procedure, as long as they claim that their "conscience" requires them to.
It says that no one can take any action against a health care provider who refuses to provide care because of their conscience, including bringing a lawsuit against them.
While it's obvious that the main purpose of this bill is to allow for pharmacists, doctors, hospitals, nurses, "healthcare payers" (ie: employers), nursing homes, and any other health care workers to discriminate against LGBTQ people and sexually active straight women who do not want to get or be pregnant, the wording in the bill is so non-specific that it could literally apply to anything — including things Good Christian Republicans might not like very much.
It could mean that an employer who is a Jehovah's Witness could refuse to pay for insurance that covers blood transfusions. It could mean that a Scientologist employer could refuse to cover mental health care. It could mean that a liberal doctor could refuse to treat rightwing anti-maskers for COVID, citing the fact that the Bible has some pretty harsh words as far as hypocrisy goes.
In fact, according to one senator, it would not even just be for religious people and their sincerely held beliefs about who should get what kind of health care.
Via Arkansas Online:
Sen. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, said he views the bill as allowing any health care provider to refuse to provide any health care service for any reason except for emergency situations. He added that Hammer is probably right that federal law covers, among other things, race and national origin.
The bill would allow medical care providers to refuse to provide treatment to a patient, diagnose that patient's condition or refer patients based on their conscientious objection, he said.
Tucker said conscience would be defined in the bill as including any religious, moral, ethical or philosophical belief and "that pretty much covers everything under the sun."
This rule would also apply to allied health professionals, like speech pathologists, therapists of varying kinds, social workers, dietitians, fertility specialists — all would be free to discriminate against anyone, so long as they claim it is their personal belief. All a "healthcare payer" would have to do in order to refuse to cover certain procedures or medications would be to write out a list of the things their conscience prevents them from covering every year.
Republicans feel totally free to try to pass bills like this because they don't ever believe it's going to apply to them. They don't think they're ever the ones who are going to be discriminated against, who are not going to be able to get a medical procedure or treatment because of who they are or their identity. It's why they can scream and cry about people supposedly getting fired for being Republicans while still opposing at-will employment. Because it's not supposed to apply to them. They're supposed to be the ones doing the discriminating and the firing. Duh.
Republican Sen. Kim Hammer, who sponsored the bill, insisted that it won't inconvenience people because it "is about elective things, things you can take time to find a provider who's willing to offer the service rather than a force a provider who doesn't believe in doing it." Absolutely nowhere in the bill does it say that. The word "elective" doesn't appear once.
Hammer also said the bill would not allow people to discriminate against others based on race, but it does not specify that anywhere, either.
Arkansas is a mostly rural state with a pretty severe doctor shortage happening. People already have trouble getting treatment, finding doctors who will take their health care, etc. It is very possible that this could mean that LGBTQ+ people in certain areas of the state would not be able to find treatment anywhere near them, and that makes this an actual life or death situation. You can't just say, "Go ahead and discriminate against anyone you want so long as you are very sincere about it!" and expect that to end well.
The bill will now go to the equally Republican House for a vote, and then on to Governor Asa Hutchinson for his signature; Hutchinson said of the bill, "I will review this bill as it is considered by the legislature, but I do believe it is addressing an important concern by the public and medical community."
So that's nice.
Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse