By the End of Summer, Arkansas Doctors Can Refuse to Treat LGBTQ Patients

If you are gay or trans in Arkansas, getting medical treatment may become much more difficult. Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson signed into law on Friday a bill giving medical providers discretion to refuse treatment to LGBTQ patients and others based on religious, moral, or ethical objections.

The law, also known as the Medical Ethics and Diversity Act, states that even when a procedure is medically necessary, a provider can still refuse treatment, except in emergency situations. It is scheduled to go into effect late this summer, even as the Covid-19 pandemic rages on.

“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,” Hutchinson said in a statement. But the law does not explicitly name any protected classes. Instead, Hutchinson said, the state is relying on “federal laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, and national origin.”

The law is opposed by many prominent medical organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Medical Association.

Members of the LGBTQ community already experience medical discrimination at disturbingly high rates, and the new Arkansas law is basically codifying it. According to a Lamda Legal survey, 56 percent of lesbian, gay or bisexual respondents reported experiencing medical discrimination, as did 70 percent of transgender and gender-nonconforming respondents. “These barriers, in turn, can result in poorer health outcomes and often have serious and even catastrophic consequences,” Lambda Legal wrote.

Triathlete Chris Mosier, a transgender man, called the bill “the nation’s most extreme anti-LGBTQ healthcare bill.” In a tweet, Mosier wrote, “It would apply to everything including counseling & therapy, general medicine, PReP, hormones & other affirming care, as well as ambulance, EMT care & insurance coverage.”

“Making it easier to deny people health care isn’t just wrong, it’s dangerous,” Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas executive director, said in a statement when the bill first passed. “This bill is dangerously broad, encompassing any kind of care that someone might object to on moral or religious grounds.”

This is not the only anti-LGBTQ law Hutchison has signed. Also this week he signed a bill into law targeting transgender youth. The new law bans transgender female student-athletes from participating on girls’ sports teams.

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