South Carolina wants to allow health care providers to deny care based on religious beliefs

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — A new bill proposed in the South Carolina legislature would allow health care providers to deny care that would violate their religious beliefs.

The bill, also known as the “Medical Ethics and Diversity Act,” would “authorize medical practitioners, health care institutions, and health care payers not to participate in health care services that violate the practitioner’s or entity’s conscience.”

That includes health systems, clinics, individual providers and insurance companies.

House Bill 4776 passed the House Thursday in a 81-26 vote. Rep. William Bailey (R-Horry County) is a co-sponsor of the bill.

The Human Rights Campaign told News13 the legislation is completely unnecessary.

“That puts patients in a terrible position of not being able to receive the care that they need,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign.

The bill would also protect those same health care providers from civil or criminal liability as well as discrimination, with some exceptions. The law would not override federal laws or regulations that require health care providers to issue emergency medical treatment to all patients.

The bill would allow health care providers to only object to particular services but they may still have to provide other care that doesn’t violate their beliefs to patients. It would allow them to practice their personal right of conscience, which refers to religious, moral or ethical beliefs.

The South Carolina General Assembly said it’s an unalienable right.

“As part of the Hippocratic Oath, something that doctors agree to do no harm and so if you are effectively harming your patients by not providing them the medical care that they need, that’s really a serious problem,” Warbelow said.

Health care services listed in the bill that may go against personal beliefs include exams, giving out medications — such as birth control — psychological therapy or counseling.

“If you’ve got a same-sex couple who comes into a hospital for cancer treatments, you could have a counselor who refuses to engage with them,” Warbelow said.

The bill, as currently written, specifically mentions abortions, stating that a practitioner shouldn’t have to perform an abortion unless the practitioner specifies to their employer in writing that they can perform it. There are three abortion clinics in the state.

“It impacts people who are trying to access a whole host and range of medications at a pharmacy, whether it is birth control pills, medications to prevent HIV, anything that a pharmacist could object to,” Warbelow said.

The bill states that threats to practitioners’ beliefs have become increasingly more common and severe in recent years and says things will only get worse unless something is done to restore conscience to its rightful place.

“The First Amendment protects religious freedom and the rights of moral conscience, but there are always limits,” Warbelow said. “And those limits include when people need medical care and that there is an obligation to provide medical treatment and care that is necessary.”

The bill would not allow practitioners to refuse care to a patient based on race.

The bill currently sits in the Senate Committee on Medical Affairs.

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