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Arkansas State Senate Passes Anti-LGBTQ Health Bill

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday February 12, 2021

The Arkansas State Senate just passed a bill that allows medical professionals, including pharmacists and nursing home staff, to turn away LGBTQ patients without consequence, LGBTQ Nation reports.

The "Medical Ethics and Diversity Act" (S.B. 289), which just passed a third reading in the Senate and is now with a committee in the House, amends the definition of "discrimination" to protect medical professionals — specified as any "individual who furnishes or assists in the provision of a healthcare service" — based on their "religious, moral, ethical, or philosophical beliefs." Medical professionals are also under no legal obligation to refer LGBTQ patients to another provider.

As if that weren't enough, the bill also protects employers that wish to deny medical procedures to employees if the employer claims such procedures violate their "conscience."

The bill prevents lawsuits from being filed against healthcare professionals acting on their conscience. In turn, they can file lawsuits against employers if they feel they are being compelled to violate their conscience and provide healthcare and procedures to patients they do not wish to help.

As LGBTQ Nation notes, pharmacists could refuse to fill prescriptions of hormone replacement for transgender patients, lesbian couples can be turned away from fertility treatments, and doctors can refuse to prescribe PrEP and more.

State Democrats have expressed concern that this is a slippery slope to denying treatment to patients of the "wrong" political party and pointing to this bill as justification. Sen. Clark Tucker (D) said, "the country is as divided as it's been in my lifetime... the way that this bill is written, I see it going into the doctor's office."

GOP Senator Kim Hammer, a sponsor of the bill, insists 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."

However, contrary to what Sen. Hammer says, the bill, which passed the GOP-controlled Senate with a 27-6 vote, does not mention "elective" procedures at all. In fact, it also protects hospitals, ambulances, and nursing homes from "discrimination" based on conscience.

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.