Lawmakers in Arkansas, US have passed a bill which will allow healthcare professionals to turn away LGBTQ+ patients on the basis of ‘personal beliefs’. The Medical Ethics and Diversity Act, otherwise known as Senate Bill 289, states that the medical professional in question “is not required to participate in a healthcare service that violates their conscience”, meaning LGBTQ+ people could be refused healthcare without the practitioner facing any consequences. The bill was passed in a 27-6 vote.
Many LGBTQ+ activists have expressed concern over the new regulations, to which Republican senator Kim Hammer, who sponsored Bill 289, responded: “This bill is about elective things, things you can take time to find a provider who’s willing to offer the service rather than force a provider who doesn’t believe in doing it.” The Human Rights Campaign’s Arkansas state manager, Eric Reece, told LGBTQ Nation, that the bill “is a blatantly discriminatory attempt to strip LGBTQ+ people of basic rights,” adding: “Health care should be available to all who need it, not withheld by providers because of hate and fear.”
Arkansas is now one of a handful of states which has either proposed or legally implemented laws which limit LGBTQ+ access to healthcare; the majority target trans youth. Alabama is the most recent state to introduce a bill which would prohibit doctors from providing gender-affirming healthcare to trans people under the age of 21. The Human Rights Watch spoke out against the rising number of anti-trans bills in the US, saying in a statement that gender-affirming healthcare is essential for the wellbeing of trans youth: “Such treatment can alleviate gender dysphoria and postpone puberty to give children time to explore their gender identity…For kids who need them, foreclosing these options is a violation of their bodily autonomy and their right to health.”