Ohio doctors can now refuse service on moral and religious grounds

A provision in Ohio’s new biennial budget will allow healthcare workers, hospitals and health insurance providers to refuse services that violate their moral or religious beliefs, the Journal-News reported Monday.

Local advocates warn that this rule legalizes discrimination against LGBTQ patients as well as members of other marginalized groups such as drug addicts or people living with HIV or sexually transmitted diseases. Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio said the budget amendment gives doctors the right to deny patients treatments like birth control.

While speaking on Thursday about the budget he signed on Wednesday night, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said the conscience clause will change very little and no Ohioian will be discriminated against.

“It just puts into law what the practice has been anyway,” he said. “Let’s say the doctor is against abortion, the doctor doesn’t perform abortion. If there’s other things that a doctor might have trouble with consciousness with, it gets sorted out, somebody else does those things.

Dr Todd Kepler, Southwestern medical director of Equitas Health, a nonprofit healthcare system serving LGBTQ patients in the Midwest, said the “broadly broad” language of the new rule will exacerbate existing barriers to LGBTQ patients. care for many marginalized groups.

The wording of the law would allow healthcare workers, hospitals and health insurance companies to “refuse to provide, participate in or pay for any healthcare service that violates (their) conscience according to (their) beliefs. moral, ethical or religious ”.

The clause could hit the hardest people already living with few options for medical care in their community, Keppler said.

“Say I’m a gay patient and wanted to see a provider in my town,” he said. “And there weren’t really any other suppliers in town. But they find it morally unacceptable, they could reject me, and the language is so broad that it could even be done at the institutional level. So if you have a hospital that maybe has an affiliation with a religious institution. And again, this is the only institution in town, theoretically, they could turn this patient away for health care. “

A Center for American Progress survey found that in 2017, 8% of lesbian, gay and bisexual respondents and 29% of transgender respondents were denied care by a health care provider because of their sexual orientation or gender. their gender identity. The survey also found that 18% of LGBT Americans believe that if they were denied care in a hospital, it would be “very difficult” or “not possible” to find another provider. Outside the large metropolitan areas, this number rose to 41%.

State Senator Steve Huffman, a Republican doctor from Tipp City, has said he supports the new rule.

“In my medical career, I have always and wholeheartedly put my patients first, and I do everything in my power to improve their health and general well-being in the way that best suits them. to their needs. However, when a patient requests elective services, such as abortion, which might violate a physician’s personal religious, moral, or ethical code, it is simply time for them to find a new provider, ”Huffman said. “I fully support the wording of this budget which protects all healthcare professionals by ensuring that they are not required to perform or pay for procedures that conflict with their conscience.”

Justin Cole, president of the practice of pharmacy at Cedarville University, said this clause does not allow a doctor to refuse to treat a person but allows a doctor to exercise a conscientious objection to a service of specific health.

“Americans have the freedom to live by deeply held ethical, moral and religious beliefs,” Cole said. “This necessarily includes doctors, nurses and other clinicians… Without these provisions, health care providers may be forced to participate in procedures or treatments that conflict with their own beliefs and may be considered harmful to the patient. patient. “

Dr Misti Grimson, medical director of the University of Cedarville’s medical assistants program, said that extending this freedom to institutions and payers “should be justified by clearly stated policies of the institution or by history of consistent beliefs “.

Randy Phillips, executive director of the Greater Dayton LGBT Center, said professionals, including healthcare providers, should be able to separate their own agenda from their work.

“It starts off a slippery slope when we start to choose who we can deal with and who we don’t want to deal with,” Phillips said. “How many will be denied care just because they live authentically? “

What the Ohio Budget Conscience Clause Says:

“Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the revised Code, a physician, health facility or health care payer is free to refuse to perform, participate in or pay for any health service that violates the conscience of the practitioner, institution or payer as informed by the moral, ethical or religious beliefs or principles of the practitioner, institution or payer. The exercise of the right of conscience is limited to conscientious objections to a particular health service.

… The physician is responsible for providing all appropriate health care services, other than the particular health care service which conflicts with the beliefs or beliefs of the physician, until another physician or facility is available.

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