Nebraska considers medical conscientious objection bill
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – Nebraska lawmakers are following the lead of other conservative states in considering a bill that would allow medical providers, facilities and insurers to cite their religious, ethical or moral beliefs in withholding certain medical treatments. . Critics say it’s simply another way to target abortion rights and the LGBTQ community.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Dave Murman, of Glenvil, casts a wide net. The term “medical providers” covers everyone from doctors, nurses and pharmacists to mental health counselors and nursing home staff – all could refuse to perform non-emergency procedures, from abortions and gender-affirming hormone treatments to prescribe birth control – if the provider has a moral objection to it.
The bill includes nearly three pages of language that protects providers who conscientiously oppose the delivery of care from lawsuits, criminal charges and professional ethics charges.
The bill would also allow doctors’ offices, clinics and hospitals to refuse treatment based on conscientious objection, and would allow businesses and health insurance companies to refuse to pay for treatment on the same grounds.
Murman said the measure does not give those providers and entities carte blanche to discriminate against patients. A doctor who identifies as a Christian could not, for example, refuse to treat someone because the person is Muslim, or vice versa.
“The act is procedure-specific, not patient-specific,” Murman said Friday at a hearing on the bill before the lawmaker’s Committee on Health and Human Services.
A similar bill is under consideration in Montana, and in 2021, Arkansas passed its own medical conscientious objection law. In Idaho, a bill widely viewed as targeting LGBTQ residents would allow therapists and mental health counselors to refuse to treat clients if clients’ goals or behaviors conflict with the counselor’s “truly held principles,” advanced in narrowly by a legislative committee on Thursday.
Jane Seu, legal and policy adviser to the American Civil Liberties Union, was among those who opposed the Nebraska bill on Friday, saying it “would provide unbridled license for healthcare professionals to discriminate against their patients on almost any grounds.” .
“This license to discriminate will be felt most severely in rural areas where patients have limited choice of medical providers,” he said.
Eliana Siebe-Walles, a 20-year-old University of Nebraska-Lincoln student who uses the pronoun them, told the committee they suffer from a reproductive condition treated with birth control hormones.
“Under this bill, a provider could potentially prevent me from getting the treatment I need,” they said.
Outside the hearing, Siebe-Walles said their main concern is that this bill could be used by medical professionals to discriminate, “especially against people of color and queer people who are already more burdened than others when it comes to getting the care they need. “
That fear is also prevalent in Idaho, where a bill banning all gender-friendly medical care is expected to pass the Idaho House. This, coupled with the conscientious objection bill for mental health workers, has some LGBTQ residents and allies concerned that young people will soon face a near-total health care barrier.
Kris Huntting, a transgender parent raising a transgender teenager in southwestern Idaho, was refused treatment by their own longtime therapist several years ago after revealing she was trans. Now Huntting is concerned about his son’s access to healthcare, although the 15-year-old has yet to express interest in gender-affirming medical care.
“One thing I’ve really struggled with is that her doctor knows she’s trans,” Huntting said Thursday. “It should have been something I medically mentioned to his doctor, or he will no longer be treated for his depression and anxiety – which he has had his entire life – because it will be considered related to his diagnosis of gender dysphoria, or why a therapist might not like it?
The American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics states that physicians have an ethical obligation to provide care in medical emergencies and that physicians “must also assume an ethical responsibility not to discriminate against a potential patient on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, or other personal or social characteristics that are not clinically relevant to the individual’s care.
With this in mind, physicians may refuse to provide care “under certain limited circumstances,” which include if the patient requests care that is “incompatible with the physician’s deeply held personal, religious, or moral beliefs,” according to the code.
Associated Press writers Rebecca Boone, in Boise, Idaho, and Lindsey Tanner, in Chicago, contributed to this report.
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