LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — 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 measure 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 Governor issued the following statement after signing the legislation.
“I have signed into law SB289, The Medical Ethics and Diversity Act. I weighed this bill very carefully, and it should be noted that I opposed the bill in the 2017 legislative session. The bill was changed to ensure that the exercise of the right of conscience is limited to ‘conscience-based objections to a particular health care service.’ 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. 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 of the 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.
Supporters of the conscience provision have said it allows providers to cite conscience for not performing types of treatment, but couldn’t use it for targeting specific groups of patients. Hutchinson had opposed a similar bill that was rejected by a House committee in 2017.
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.
A final vote is scheduled Monday on another proposal that would prohibit gender confirming treatments and surgery for minors.
The bill 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.