House legislation lets providers deny care if conscience pulled
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.”
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