Florida bill protecting ‘conscience’ allows doctors to deny treatment

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Florida medical professionals would be able to refuse to perform nearly any health care service if they have moral objections under a bill passed by the Senate on Friday and moving in the House this week.

Under SB 1580, medical health providers could not be held liable in a civil case if they turn away a patient on conscience grounds. Insurance companies could also refuse to pay for a service if it goes against their written, conscience-based guidelines.

A person would still be able to sue for other violations, including medical malpractice.

Opponents of the legislation say they worry the bill opens the door for medical professionals to discriminate against people, including those who may be LGBTQ+.

Part of the bill explicitly outlines that it does not allow someone to opt out of providing service because of someone’s “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Attempts by Democrats to broaden that to include such things as disability, gender identity, sexuality and marital status failed.

“This bill screams, reeks of discrimination,” said Sen. Tracie Davis, D-Jacksonville.

But sponsors pushed back, arguing that doctors deserve religious protection. House sponsor Rep. Joel Rudman, R-Navarre, said in an earlier committee meeting that “there’s nothing in this bill that legalizes discrimination.”

The bill passed the Senate on Friday on a 28-11 vote. A House vote is expected later this week. This is the final week of Florida’s legislative session.

A similar bill was put forward last year but died in committee meetings.

This year’s legislation defines a conscience objection as something based on a “sincerely held religious, moral, or ethical belief.”

Between state and federal law, Florida medical providers already have conscience protections when it comes to providing abortions and prescribing contraception. But the bill opens the door for doctors to turn down any procedure if it goes against their conscience.

The bill does not name which acts are acceptable to turn down.

Rudman, a doctor, has said the bill is his “entire reason for being here in the Florida Legislature.” Rudman said he was investigated by the American Board of Medicine after he posted online about his objections to COVID restrictions and the guidance of Anthony Fauci, who was then the White House’s chief medical adviser.

The bill says professional boards cannot take disciplinary action against someone solely because of something they wrote on social media, as long as that speech doesn’t violate other parts of the law.

It also says a medical professional or insurance company cannot be discriminated against because they declined to participate in or pay for a health care service. If a person or group feels they are discriminated against for taking a “conscience” objection, they can file a complaint with the attorney general.

The bill specifies that it does not preempt the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, which requires hospitals to stabilize any patient with an emergency condition.

For an insurance company and entities like hospitals to claim a “conscience” objection, they must have governing documents, mission statements or other records delineating their ethical, moral or religious guidelines.

Medical professionals who refuse to treat a patient under this law need to document in the patient’s file that they notified the patient, and must provide written notice to their employer.

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