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Bill allowing denial of medical services based on 'conscience' approved by Arkansas lawmakers

The bill allows providers to deny patients services they disagree with based on their religious or moral beliefs. Opponents of the bill say it's discriminating.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — (Eds. Note: The attached video is from March 10.)

The Arkansas Senate officially passed Senate Bill 289 Thursday, which would allow healthcare workers, hospitals, and insurance providers to deny services to those that violate their "conscience."

The "Medical Ethics and Diversity Act" bill, sponsored by State Rep. Brandt Smith (R-Jonesboro) and Sen. Kim Hammer (R-Benton), allows providers to deny clients of procedures they disagree with based on religious or moral beliefs.

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Opponents of the bill say it will lead to discrimination within the workplace, as well as less healthcare options during a time the nation needs it most.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, who supports the bill, responded to the bill's approval by stating, in part:

"No American should be forced to violate their ethical and religious beliefs. Doctors, nurses, and other medical providers should enjoy this same constitutional protection. The MED Act ensures that no medical professional is compelled to breach their oath to ‘do no harm’ by being required to participate in procedures or treatments that violate their conscience."

The counsel also stated the bill would mean fewer healthcare options at a time when the nation is already experiencing a shortage of providers.

The Human Rights Campaign, who opposes the bill, also responded by stating that approval of the bill would bring negative consequences to the LGBTQ+ community.

"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," stated Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David. "We strongly urge Governor Asa Hutchinson to reject this bill and protect access to care for all Arkansans."

RELATED: Two Arkansas bills targeting transgender people advance through legislature

The bill was originally approved by both chambers on March 15, then sent back to the Senate to address amendments that were approved by the House committee.

On March 18, the bill was passed. It now heads Gov. Hutchinson's desk for final approval.

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