(Photo Credits: Airman 1st Class Grace Nichols, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed the medical conscience objections bill into law last Friday. This means that health care workers and institutions can soon refuse to treat patients based on their religious and moral beliefs. 

The new law, which will take effect this late summer, had provoked an outcry from human rights activists and LGBTQ advocates alike as this, they say, “will give providers broad powers to turn away LGBTQ patients and others,” PBS News Hour reports

The Republican governor opposed a similar bill in 2017. But the law he signed, he explained, is procedure-specific, that it was “narrower and limits the objections to particular health care services, not treating specific types of people.”

“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 written statement. “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.”

Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David however, denounced the new law last Friday. He said, “Governor Hutchinson is proving himself to be a cruel opponent of equality by signing this draconian medical refusal bill.”

Further, HRC said that with this law, doctors can refuse to maintain hormone treatments for transgender patients needing in-patient care for an infection. Pharmacies, on the other hand, can refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control and antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV infection. Others say same-sex couples can be denied grief counseling while physician assistants can “override patient directives on end of life care.”

Meanwhile, Holly Dickson—the Executive Director of the ACLU of Arkansas—said in a statement: “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.”

But the medical conscience objections measure is just one of the others. Apart from this bill, Hutchinson signed transgender sports ban into law last Thursday as well. This particular measure prohibits transgender women and girls from competing in school sports teams that align with their gender identity. 

Moreover, just this Monday, Arkansas passed a bill called HB 1570, the “Save Adolescents From Experimentation (SAFE) Act” that prohibits doctors from providing gender-affirming health care to transgender youth. With HB 1570, trans youth will also be unable to access health care and insurance coverage for gender-affirming care, Business Insider reports. The legislation is now simply waiting for Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s signature or veto before it formally becomes law.

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