Arkansas Legislature Sends Broad Medical Refusal Bill Harmful to LGBTQ People to Gov. Hutchinson’s Desk

by Wyatt Ronan

Today, the Arkansas Senate voted to pass SB 289, a medical refusal bill that would have negative consequences for patients, including LGBTQ people. The bill, having passed the House, will now be sent to Governor Asa Hutchinson's desk for signature or veto.

No one should be denied necessary medical care. SB 289 prioritizes individual providers’ beliefs ahead of patient health and wellbeing. The Arkansas legislature understood this when they rejected a similar bill four years ago and they would be wise to do the same again this session. In the midst of a devastating and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we should be expanding access to health care and making it more affordable, not advancing bills that make it harder for LGBTQ Arkansans to receive the care they need. We strongly urge Governor Asa Hutchinson to reject this bill and protect access to care for all Arkansans.

Alphonso David, Human Rights Campaign President

SB 289 would allow health care institutions and providers to refuse care, even when medically necessary, except for emergency situations. If the bill became law:

  • A nurse could refuse to administer prescribed higher levels of pain medication because it could hasten end of life for a terminal patient.
  • A doctor could refuse to maintain hormone treatments for transgender patient needing inpatient care for an infection.
  • A counselor could refuse to provide grief counseling to a same-sex couple where one spouse has been diagnosed with cancer because it would involve "gay marriage counseling".
  • Pharmacies could have a policy of refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control, PrEP, and antiretrovirals.
  • A physician’s assistant could override patient’s directives on end of life care.
  • A medical researcher could refuse to publish the results of a state funded study because the scientific evidence was in conflict with the researcher’s beliefs.

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