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Dispelling the Big Lie About Arkansas’ Law Protecting Religious Freedom in Health Care

Dispelling the Big Lie About Arkansas’ Law Protecting Religious Freedom in Health Care

On Friday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) signed S.B. 289, The Medical Ethics and Diversity Act, which enshrines important conscience protections for health care workers amid increasingly strident transgender activism. Many activist groups and politicians have condemned the bill as yet another “license to discriminate” against LGBT people.

“LGBTQ rights are human rights, and no one should have to face discrimination when seeking health care,” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tweeted, responding to news of Hutchinson signing the bill. “What’s next? A ‘moral objection’ to treating people of a different race or religion?”

“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,” ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Holly Dickson said in a statement.


However, Gov. Hutchinson explicitly noted that he refused to sign an earlier version of this conscience protection law precisely because it was too broad. He signed this bill because it only protects health care providers who object to specific health care services, not to serving people according to their identities.

“I have signed into law SB289, The Medical Ethics, and Diversity Act. I weighed this bill very carefully, and it should be noted that I opposed the bill in the 2017 legislative session,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “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.’”

“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,” he added. “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.”

S.B. 289 protects health care workers, medical centers, and health care payers from being forced to “participate in a healthcare service that violates his, her, or its conscience.” It protects these conscientious objectors from liability and discrimination. It explicitly notes that the “exercise of the right of conscience is limited to conscience-based objections to a particular health care service.”

The Orwellian redefinition of health care makes this law extremely necessary. Abortion activists and powerful organizations like Planned Parenthood have long defended the intentional killing of an unborn baby in the womb — abortion — as “health care.” Yet in recent years, the medical establishment has embraced an even more perverse definition of health care — one that includes chemical castration (and sometimes actual castration) of gender-confused people, even children.

Some doctors have warned that transgender hormone “treatments” — cross-sex hormones and so-called “puberty-blockers” for children — give healthy people a disease. The actual surgery often involves sterilizing a patient for life. There is no evidence that transgender surgery improves the mental health outcomes of gender dysphoric people. Men and women who formerly identified as transgender and underwent surgery have grown to reject transgender identity and lament the damage they did to their own bodies.


Mandating such “treatments” would force many doctors to violate the Hippocratic oath. If health care centers are to perform such “treatments” at all, doctors should at least have the religious freedom to refuse to participate in treatments that physically harm patients in the name of helping them psychologically. After all, activists wouldn’t support a law forcing doctors to perform liposuction on starving girls who mistakenly think of themselves as “fat,” would they?

Whatever Americans’ position on controversial and arguably dangerous transgender “treatments,” most should agree that doctors have the right to opt out of performing these controversial practices. In January, the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota protected Catholic health care providers from a transgender surgery mandate.

Even if some Americans don’t support health care providers’ conscience rights on this issue, they should be able to agree that S.B. 289 is not a “license to discriminate.” Hillary Clinton is dead wrong to claim that this law grants a blank check, allowing doctors to refuse to perform all health care treatment for transgender people. Hutchinson worked to make sure it does not.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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