Saturday, 27 March 2021

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signs bill allowing doctors to REFUSE to treat anyone on religious or moral grounds - but critics claim it will let medics discriminate against LGBTQ patients

 Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Friday signed into law legislation allowing doctors to refuse to treat someone because of religious or moral objections, a move opponents have said will give providers broad powers to turn away LGBTQ patients and others.

The medical conscience objections law says health care workers and institutions have the right to not participate in non-emergency treatments that violate their conscience. The new law won't take effect until late this summer.

The move came just a day after he signed a law banning transgender women and girls from competing in school sports consistent with their gender identity. Following Mississippi and Idaho, Arkansas is now the third state to approve such a restriction, although Idaho's enacted law is now being blocked by a court ruling in an ongoing legal dispute.

Opponents of the medical law, including the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union, have said it will allow doctors to refuse to offer a host of services for LGBTQ patients. The state Chamber of Commerce also opposed the measure, saying it sends the wrong message about the state.

Hutchinson opposed a similar measure in 2017 that failed before a House committee. But he said the law he signed was narrower and limits the objections to particular health care services, not treating specific types of people.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed into law a measure that would allow doctors to refuse to treat someone because of moral or religious objections, despite claims it would give medical providers broad powers to turn away LGBTQ patients and others

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed into law a measure that would allow doctors to refuse to treat someone because of moral or religious objections, despite claims it would give medical providers broad powers to turn away LGBTQ patients and others

'I support this right of conscience so long as emergency care is exempted and conscience objection cannot be used to deny general health service to any class of people,' Hutchinson said in a statement released by his office. 'Most importantly, the federal laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, and national origin continue to apply to the delivery of health care services.'

Opponents have said types of health care that could be cut off include maintaining hormone treatments for transgender patients needing in-patient care for an infection, or grief counseling for a same-sex couple. They've also said it could also be used to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control, or by physicians assistants to override patient directives on end of life care.

ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Holly Dickson refused to say whether they would take legal action to block the law before it takes effect

ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Holly Dickson refused to say whether they would take legal action to block the law before it takes effect

'There is no sugarcoating this: this bill is another brazen attempt to make it easier to discriminate against people and deny Arkansans the health care services they need,' ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Holly Dickson said in a statement. 

The ACLU did not say whether it planned any legal action to try and block the law before it takes effect.

The law is among several measures targeting transgender people that have easily advanced through the majority-Republican Legislature this year. Hutchinson on Thursday signed a law that will prohibit transgender women and girls from playing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson on Thursday signed a law banning transgender women and girls from competing in school sports consistent with their gender identity, making the state the second to approve such a restriction so far this year 

Hutchinson approved Arkansas' measure despite objections from medical and child-welfare groups that it would have devastating impacts on transgender youth. Hundreds of college athletes have also urged the NCAA to refuse to hold championships in states that enact such bans. 

'This law simply says that female athletes should not have to compete in a sport against a student of the male sex when the sport is designed for women's competition,' Hutchinson said in a statement released by his office. 


'As I have stated previously, I agree with the intention of this law. This will help promote and maintain fairness in women's sporting events.' 

The divisive issue has been a focal point for both the current and previous White House administrations.  

President Joe Biden signed an executive order on his first day in office prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in school sports and elsewhere. Previously, former president Donald Trump had rolled back protections for transgender people while in office. 

Republicans in at least 20 state legislatures have been pushing for similar bans this year. Mississippi's governor signed a prohibition into law earlier this month. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem had initially said she would sign similar legislation sent to her but has since pushed for changing it to exclude college sports. Arkansas' law covers K-12 as well as collegiate sports. 

The head of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ rights groups, called Hutchinson's decision 'an affront not just to the transgender kids it is bound to hurt but to all Arkansans who will be impacted by its consequences.'

'Hutchinson is ignoring the ugly history of states that have dared to pass anti-transgender legislation in years past, and by doing so he is exposing Arkansas to economic harm, expensive taxpayer-funded legal battles, and a tarnished reputation,' Alphonso David, the group's president, said in a statement.

Only one state, Idaho, has enacted a law curtailing transgender students' sports participation, and that 2020 measure is blocked by a court ruling as a lawsuit plays out. Opponents have not said whether they plan legal action to block Arkansas' ban. 

Arkansas is the third state to sign a bill into law that excludes transgender athletes from female sports

Arkansas is the third state to sign a bill into law that excludes transgender athletes from female sports

'This law is a discriminatory and shameful attempt by politicians to stigmatize and exclude transgender teens,' American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas Executive Director Holly Dickson said in a statement

A final vote is scheduled Monday on another proposal that would prohibit gender confirming treatments and surgery for minors.

The Human Rights Campaign announced Friday that it would air a television ad in Arkansas during the Arkansas-Oral Roberts game in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night denouncing measures such as the transgender athlete restrictions in Arkansas and other states.

'Trans kids are kids. They don't deserve this cruelty,' the 30-second spot says.

The bills are advancing as a hate crimes measure backed by Hutchinson has stalled in the Legislature after facing resistance from conservatives. The bill would impose additional penalties for committing a crime against someone because of their characteristics, including their sexual orientation or gender identity.

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