LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — The Arkansas House on Monday approved legislation that would allow doctors to refuse to treat someone because of religious or moral objections, a proposal that opponents say would give broad powers to discriminate against patients.
The majority-Republican House voted 72-20 for the measure, which says health care workers and institutions have the right to not participate in non-emergency treatments that violate their conscience. The bill goes back to the Senate, which last month approved an earlier version of the legislation.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has not said whether he supports the bill and said Monday he was still reviewing the measure. Similar proposals stalled in the Legislature in 2017 and 2019.
Opponents of the bill called it a part of a trend of measures discriminating against LGBTQ people that are advancing in the Legislature. Others include bills that would prohibit transgender girls and women from participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity and banning gender confirming treatments for minors.
“This bill simply piles on with others that continue to restrict and hang over like a dark bog of intolerance over our state, and stagnate our quality of life and our economic growth,” Democratic Rep. Tippi McCullough, the Legislature’s only openly gay member, said before the vote.
Supporters of the bill say it would protect health care workers from being forced to perform something that goes against their conscience. Supporters argued providers could only cite conscience for not performing types of treatment, but couldn’t use it for targeting specific groups of patients.
“This bill provides a remedy for our medical care providers. It does not discriminate in any way,” Republican Rep. Brandt Smith, a sponsor of the measure, said.