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Christian doctors in three states now have legal protections if they choose not to participate in certain medical procedures because of their religious conscience.
More recently, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster signed into law a bill last month protecting doctors from lawsuits or job loss for refusing to perform various medical procedures that go against their religious or moral opinions. The law does not protect against emergency proceedings.
Laws protecting the religious conscience of healthcare providers were passed in Arkansas and Ohio in 2021. Another was brought before the Florida legislature earlier this year.
“We’ve had a number of instances where individuals and physicians have been coerced and coerced into participating in medical procedures that violate their conscience,” said Aaron Baer, president of the Center for Christian Virtue, which lobbied for Ohio law.
Some common practices that these laws have affected include various procedures undergone for reasons of gender transition, end-of-life care, contraception, and abortion.
The Ohio version of the law[TM1] came into force last September. Under this provision, “a physician, health care facility, or health care payer has the freedom to refuse to perform, participate in, or pay for any health care service that violates the conscience of the practitioner, of the institution or the payer, in accordance with morality. , beliefs or ethical or religious principles of the practitioner, institution or payer.
The Center for Christian Virtue helped draft the clause and relied on a pre-existing Ohio State University policy offering similar protections to what the statewide policy provides for their employees. South Carolina’s version of the law, the Medical Ethics and Diversity Act, was drafted earlier this year on the heels of Ohio and Arkansas.
A similar rule was unveiled by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in 2019, as the Trump administration sought to expand a policy allowing religious healthcare workers to refuse to provide care on the grounds that it violated their personal beliefs. (Some conscience protections were already in place; under the 1973 Church Amendments, institutions and individuals receiving federal health care funds were not required to provide abortions.)
However, that rule was blocked in federal courts after a number of lawsuits, and then the Biden administration announced its intention to withdraw the proposed HHS policy.
In an NPR story, Alex Duvall, a Christian family physician who practices in South Carolina, said he could not tolerate the treatments, including giving transgender patients hormone therapy, and he is relieved. to no longer be able to be prosecuted or fired by respecting his religious beliefs in his work.
It’s a battle of conscience, Duvall told NPR. “It doesn’t mean you don’t care about patients and love them or want to do your best for them.”
As gender transition and transgender patient care have become more common, some Christian medical professionals have expressed concern about being penalized for not providing such procedures.
“Our concern as an organization is that we’ve had a temporary reprieve under the Trump administration,” said Dr. Jeffrey Barrows, senior vice president of bioethics and public policy for the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, in a 2021 CT article. “We are very concerned and expect an increase in lawsuits and threats against our members and other Christian medical professionals if they do not perform some of these surgeries, do prescribe cross-sex hormones or prescribe puberty blockers.”
HHS issued guidance in March that explains attempts to restrict access to gender-affirming care could violate Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. The guidelines come after HHS announced in 2021 that section 1557 anti-discrimination protections also apply to sexual orientation and gender identity. Two lawsuits, one in Texas and one in North Dakota, have argued against the policy on behalf of Christian hospitals and physicians.
Those who oppose state laws have argued that they provide reasons for doctors to deny LGBT patients needed care. South Carolina’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said the state bill would “legalize discrimination.” A group of 50 doctors also asked the governor to veto the bill.
Baer says the Ohio law has received broad support both inside and outside the evangelical community.
“This bill has been on the books for a year now, and no one has been denied the medical services they need,” Baer said. “But what it does is ensure doctors can’t be forced to do something that violates their beliefs.”