House leg­is­la­tion lets providers deny care if con­science pulled

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - JOHN MORITZ

Fam­ily Coun­cil-backed leg­is­la­tion in­tro­duced last week would al­low med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als and health care fa­cil­i­ties and pay­ers to refuse treat­ment for pa­tients if do­ing so would in­ter­fere with their “con­science.”

House Bill 1628, which is ti­tled the Health­care Free­dom of Con­science Act, would al­low health care pro­fes­sion­als, fa­cil­i­ties and pay­ers to refuse to pro­vide a treat­ment with­out fac­ing re­tal­i­a­tion or pun­ish­ment from their em­ploy­ers or pa­tients.

The bill would ex­tend the pro­tec­tions to med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als such as doc­tors, phar­ma­cists, nurses and so­cial work­ers; fa­cil­i­ties such as hospi­tals and clin­ics; and pay­ers such as in­sur­ance com­pa­nies. It es­tab­lishes a route for le­gal rem­edy if they are pe­nal­ized for de­clin­ing treat­ment. How­ever, it does not of­fer pro­tec­tion if the treat­ment is needed for an emer­gency life-sav­ing pro­ce­dure.

Sup­port­ers of the bill say it is needed to pro­tect the re­li­gious free­doms of those op­posed to spe­cific pro­ce­dures — such as cer­tain surg­eries or blood trans­fu­sions — but op­po­nents say the bill is writ­ten broadly enough to al­low for dis­crim­i­na­tion of pa­tients based on sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or other per­sonal fac­tors.

The Fam­ily Coun­cil asked Rep. Brandt Smith, R-Jones­boro, to spon­sor the bill. Its Se­nate spon­sors are Sen. Ja­son Rapert, R-Bigelow, and Sen. Linda Collins-Smith, R-Poc­a­hon­tas.

Asked if the bill would al­low physi­cians to deny ser­vices to pa­tients be­cause they are gay, Smith said he hoped it would not, adding that he “could not sup­port that kind of leg­is­la­tion that is that abu­sive.”

The bill pro­vides no spe­cific pro­tec­tions for sex­ual or gen­der iden­tity. It does state that its pro­tec­tions ap­ply only to “in­di­vid­ual health care ser­vices” and do not al­low re­fusal of ser­vices to pa­tients based on their “iden­tity or sta­tus.”

Luke McCoy, the lob­by­ist for the Fam­ily Coun­cil who has worked on the bill, said “iden­tity” as in­cluded in the bill does not presently cover gay or trans­gen­der peo­ple, but it could at some point in the fu­ture.

“I don’t want this to cause a prob­lem; I want it to pre­vent a prob­lem,” McCoy said.

“The big­ger thing here is, if Democrats want to con­tinue to re­live their loss ev­ery sin­gle day, by do­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion or re­view af­ter re­view, that’s fine by us,” she added. “We know why we won this race. It’s be­cause we had the bet­ter can­di­date with the bet­ter mes­sage. They didn’t cam­paign in the right places. They didn’t have a good can­di­date, and if they want to con­tinue to re­live that loss ev­ery sin­gle day, then we wel­come that.”

San­ders’ as­sess­ment comes on the heels of for­mer CIA Di­rec­tor John Brennan’s call for the con­gres­sional com­mit­tees look­ing into the pos­si­bil­ity of in­ter­fer­ence in last year’s elec­tion to “pur­sue this in­ves­ti­ga­tion with vigor and with the ap­pro­pri­ate amount of bi­par­ti­san sup­port.”

“It’s very im­por­tant that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion be done in a bi­par­ti­san fash­ion,” Brennan, who left the govern­ment in Jan­uary, said on CBS’ Face the Na­tion on Sun­day. “If it’s only one party that’s go­ing to be lead­ing this, it is not go­ing to de­liver the re­sults that the Amer­i­can peo­ple need and de­serve.”

Brennan said the White House “needs to un­der­stand that the in­ter­ac­tion with the FBI on crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions is some­thing that, re­ally, they need to steer clear of.” He said such con­tact was “ver­boten” dur­ing his time in govern­ment.

House Demo­cratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said on ABC on Sun­day that Ses­sions needed to re­cuse him­self, and called for “out­side, in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion to study the per­sonal, po­lit­i­cal, and fi­nan­cial re­la­tion­ship be­tween Pres­i­dent Trump and the Rus­sians.”

On the same ABC pro­gram, San­ders wouldn’t say whether Ses­sions should step aside. “Let’s let this play out the way it should,” she said of the on­go­ing in­quiries.

Trump also weighed in on Sun­day, telling his 25.6 mil­lion Twit­ter fol­low­ers that “Rus­sia talk is FAKE NEWS put out by the Dems, and played up by the me­dia, in or­der to mask the big elec­tion de­feat and the il­le­gal leaks!”

Sen. Tom Cot­ton of Arkansas, a Repub­li­can on the In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, also said on Sun­day that a re­cusal was “far down the road from what our in­quiry might re­veal in the In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee or what the FBI’s in­quiries might re­veal.”

“Right now there’s no cred­i­ble ev­i­dence of these con­tacts be­yond anony­mous sources in the me­dia, and I’ve got to tell you, anony­mous sources can’t al­ways be trusted,” Cot­ton said on NBC’s Meet the Press.

On Fri­day, Dar­rell Issa, R-Calif., said a spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor would be ap­pro­pri­ate.

His com­ments came dur­ing a broad­cast of HBO’s Real Time With Bill Ma­her.

Issa, a Trump sup­porter who serves as chair­man of the House Over­sight and Govern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee, said con­gres­sional com­mit­tees should be al­lowed to do their work. But when pressed by Ma­her, Issa added: “You’re right that you can­not have some­body — a friend of mine, Jeff Ses­sions — who was on the cam­paign and who is an ap­pointee. You’re go­ing to need to use the spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor’s statute and of­fice.”

IM­MI­GRA­TION

Sep­a­rately, Vir­ginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Michael Kelly as­sured him Sun­day that im­mi­gra­tion agents are not con­duct­ing ran­dom raids and will not tar­get un­doc­u­mented

res­i­dents un­less they are sus­pected of be­ing in­volved in il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity.

“He ex­plained to me what the new pro­ce­dures were,” McAuliffe said Sun­day af­ter a pri­vate 45-minute brief­ing with Kelly, a re­tired gen­eral. “I do take a four-star U.S. Marine gen­eral at his word.”

McAuliffe, who was in Wash­ing­ton for the win­ter meet­ing of the Na­tional Gov­er­nors As­so­ci­a­tion, of which he is chair­man, had asked Kelly for a meet­ing to dis­cuss re­ports that fed­eral agents re­cently rounded up peo­ple out­side a church char­ity shel­ter in the Wash­ing­ton sub­urbs of North­ern Vir­ginia.

The gov­er­nor has re­peat­edly faulted the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion for tak­ing an ag­gres­sive stance on im­mi­gra­tion, say­ing it cre­ates a cli­mate of fear and scares away for­eign busi­nesses that might want to lo­cate in the state. McAuliffe at­tended a rally at Dulles In­ter­na­tional Air­port the day Trump im­posed his travel ban on peo­ple from seven Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity na­tions, which has since been stayed by a fed­eral judge.

“I am very con­cerned about this. It has had a chill­ing ef­fect,” McAuliffe said. He has said that two busi­nesses that were con­sid­er­ing Vir­ginia lo­ca­tions have al­ready walked away out of worry that they would not be wel­come.

But in Sun­day’s meet­ing, which was closed to the press, Kelly as­sured him that there will be no ran­dom raids.

“He told me that is not go­ing to hap­pen,” McAuliffe said.

He said he told Kelly that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion had done a ter­ri­ble job of mak­ing its pol­icy un­der­stood by the pub­lic. “They need to do a bet­ter job with com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­cause they have scared peo­ple,” McAuliffe said.

He said the gen­eral re­sponded with “ex­as­per­a­tion” and “frus­tra­tion.” McAuliffe said Kelly told him that he had “tried to get this mes­sage out, but it’s just not be­ing re­ported.”

“The big­ger thing here is, if Democrats want to con­tinue to re­live their loss ev­ery sin­gle day, by do­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion or re­view af­ter re­view, that’s fine by us.” — Sarah Huck­abee San­ders, a White House spokesman

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