Arkansas Senate passes expanded medical conscience law

The Arkansas Senate has passed Senate Bill 289, the "Medical Ethics and Diversity Act" which enlarges the scope for conscientious objection for healthcare workers. Arkansas’s current conscience protections are narrowly focused on abortion, abortifacients, and end of life decisions, and they protect only a limited number of people.

The bill is modelled on laws in Illinois and Mississippi. SB 289 effectively extends them to cover LGBTQ+ medicine. The bill has passed the Arkansas Senate and is currently before the House Public Health Committee. The text of the bill frames the issue as a civilisational crisis:

The right of conscience was central to the founding of the United States, has been deeply rooted in the history and tradition of the United States for centuries, and has been central to the practice of medicine through the Hippocratic oath for millennia … The swift pace of scientific advancement and the expansion, of medical capabilities, along with the notion that medical practitioners, healthcare institutions, and healthcare payers are mere public utilities, promise only to exacerbate the current crisis unless something is done to restore the importance of the right of conscience.

The bill “is a blatantly discriminatory attempt to strip LGBTQ people of basic rights,” said a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ+ lobby group. “Health care should be available to all who need it, not withheld by providers because of hate and fear.”

Similar legislation was filed in Arkansas in 2017 and 2019, but neither bill made it out of committee.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge   

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