While California is moving to expand abortion access, Arkansas is empowering doctors, healthcare institutions, and medical practitioners by giving them the right to reject performing abortions if it goes against their beliefs.
The state's Governor Asa Hutchinson on Friday signed S.B. 289, a law that protects medical professionalswho reject performing abortions if it violates their moral, ethical, or religious beliefs. Under the law, these doctors can now safely decline to provide such services without being sued by their clients.
Titled "The Medical Ethics and Diversity Act," S.B. 289 was initially opposed by Gov. Hutchinson in 2017, a fact he made clear in his recent statement. However, the 70 year-old Republican governor clarified, "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.'"
Gov. Hutchinson explained further that he supports the right of conscience with the exemption of emergency care. In these emergency cases, conscience objection must not and cannot be used to deny any health service to any class of people to save their lives. He added that such federal laws that ban discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, and national origin still apply when delivering health care services.
The Medical Ethics and Diversity Act recognizes "the right of conscience" as a "fundamental and unalienable right." Specifically, such fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience of medical practitioners, healthcare institutions, and healthcare payers have been facing "severe threats" in recent years. Furthermore, the "swift pace of scientific advancement and the expansion of medical capabilities" and the notion that these medical practitioners are merely "public utilities" have made them vulnerable to such threats. Thus, S.B. 289 was written to protect these medical professionals from "discrimination, punishment, or retaliation as a result of any instance of conscientious medical objection."
According to Christian Headlines, S.B. 289 defines "conscience" as the "religious, moral, or ethical beliefs or principles of a medical practitioner, healthcare institution, or healthcare payer."
Moreover, "conscience" is determinable by "reference to existing or proposed documents, including without limitation any published religious, moral, or ethical guidelines or directives, mission statements, constitutions, bylaws, articles of incorporation, policies, regulations, or other relevant documents."
Republican Representative Brandt Smith, who sponsored the bill allowing doctors to reject performing abortions for their beliefs, told 4029 News, "This bill just simply protects certain individuals who have that moral, ethical, religious conscientious objections from denying those services. There was concern, what if there is an emergency, can EMTs refuse to help someone? And the answer is absolutely no."
The new bill, just like other actions protecting the rights of those who oppose abortion, has its detractors. As soon as the Arkansas governor signed the new bill into law, ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Holly Dickson condemned it, calling it "another brazen attempt to make it easier to discriminate against people," THV11 reported. "Religious liberty is a fundamental right, but it is not an excuse to discriminate against people or deny them health care."
Dickson warned that the ACLU is on watch, saying S.B. 289 a "violation of federal law."