One of the many surprising and controversial items put into the budget by Senate Republicans is a provision that would allow medical professionals to deny treatment to patients if doing so would violate their personal beliefs.
A dozen other states have passed similar medical “conscience laws” like this one.
Sen. Terry Johnson (R-Portsmouth) is an osteopathic physician, and the Republican who suggested the provision in the Senate budget.
Johnson was unavailable for an interview, but a spokesman for the Ohio Senate Republicans said in a statement about the reason for the provision: “The First Amendment matters. It’s disturbing that we’ve watched big government bureaucrats try to force healthcare organizations and doctors into providing services they didn’t offer because of religious reasons protected by the First Amendment."
But advocacy groups are concerned.
Alana Jochum with the state’s leading LGBTQ rights group Equality Ohio called this “conscience clause” exceedingly broad with huge potential impact.
She listed some examples of her concerns: "Denying family planning services for an LGBTQ couple, a pharmacy refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control or prep or antiretrovirals because they disagree with the provision of those services, or nursing homes refusing to provide elderly transgender individuals with ongoing hormone treatment," Jochum said.
Abortion rights groups are also sounding the alarm, but anti-abortion groups are celebrating the provision.
NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Executive Director Kellie Copeland said in a statement that reads in part: “This amendment is about stigmatizing and isolating abortion providers. Let’s be clear about what this amendment does: closes the doors to doctors in an effort to close the door to patients. No patient has even been helped by a closed door. A clear majority of Ohioans support access to safe and legal abortion care, and do not support this restriction.”
Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis said in a statement that reads in part: "Ohio Right to Life applauds the Ohio Senate for upholding medical professionals' freedom of conscience rights. Doctors shouldn't be forced to violate their values. Medical professionals to use their guiding principles to provide the best care possible for their patients and ensuring that they are free to do so creates a more compassionate and informed heath care system."
The budget conference committee and Gov. Mike DeWine would have to approve this proposal in the Senate budget before it could become law.