LITTLE ROCK — A legislative panel voted Monday to conduct a study in the interim between sessions on a bill that would allow a health-care provider to refuse to provide a service that violates his or her conscience.
The House and Senate committees on public health, welfare and labor voted, without discussion, to study legislation by Rep. Brandt Smith, R-Jonesboro, that failed to advance out of the House public health panel during this year’s session.
House Bill 1628, titled The Healthcare Freedom of Conscience Act, would have allowed a person or institution that provides health care to refuse to participate in a non-emergency service that contradicts his or her religious, moral or ethical principles. It would have prohibited the person or institution from being punished for the refusal through criminal, civil or administrative action.
The measure also would have allowed a health-care payer such as an insurance company to refuse to pay for a service that violates its conscience.
The bill states that it would not allow a health-care provider or payer to refuse a service based on a person’s identity or status.
Smith said in an interview Monday he was “excited” to have the opportunity to present his bill in a less frenzied atmosphere than the legislative session.
“It really is not discriminatory in any way, but there was so much happening at the time the bill was presented to the House health committee that I don’t know there was time to really get down into the weeds and answer questions,” he said.
Smith said he filed the bill at the request of the Christian conservative Family Council. He said the measure would allow, for example, a doctor to ask to be replaced on a surgical team performing gender reassignment surgery without facing repercussions such as a poor performance rating.
During the session, state Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe testified against the bill in the House public health panel, saying it would be seen as targeting minority groups such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Smith said Monday when asked about that criticism, “This bill being placed in interim study will give us time to go over every part of the bill and hammer out issues and hammer out questions. If we need to go back to the drawing board … we can do that.”