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Arkansas governor signs landmark medical conscience objection law

Doctor insurance Credit alexkich Shutterstock CNA alexkich via Shutterstock.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed into law on Friday legislation allowing doctors to decline to perform non-emergency medical procedures that violate their moral or religious beliefs. The law will take effect by August 2021.

“I support this right of conscience so long as emergency care is exempted and conscience objection cannot be used to deny general health service to any class of people. Most importantly, the federal laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, and national origin continue to apply to the delivery of health care services,” said Hutchinson in a statement on Friday.

The Human Rights Campaign - the largest LGBT rights organization in the United States - and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had run ads urging Hutchinson not to sign the bill, arguing that it would allow doctors to discriminate against LGBT patients.

But the governor, who opposed a similar measure in 2017, said that the law he signed was narrower in scope and does not target any group or category of people. Rather, it states that medical professionals, institutions, and healthcare payers cannot be forced to perform services with which they disagree based upon religion or morality.

Last week, Hutchinson also signed a law that will prohibit biological men from playing female sports.

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Early this week, Arkansas lawmakers passed a measure that would forbid healthcare professional from providing puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones or "gender-affirming" surgery to minors and would open them up to lawsuits from patients who later regret their procedures.

If Hutchinson signs this last bill into law, Arkansas would become the first state to enact one of this kind. Sixteen other states are considering similar bills.

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