‘Conscience’ Bills Let Medical Providers Opt Out of Providing a Wide Range of Care

by | Aug 3, 2023 | Health

A new Montana law will provide sweeping legal protections to health care practitioners who refuse to prescribe marijuana or participate in procedures and treatments such as abortion, medically assisted death, gender-affirming care, or others that run afoul of their ethical, moral, or religious beliefs or principles.

The law, which goes into effect in October, will gut patients’ ability to take legal action if they believe they didn’t receive proper care due to a conscientious objection by a provider or an institution, such as a hospital.

So-called medical conscience objection laws have existed at the state and federal levels for years, with most protecting providers who refuse to perform an abortion or sterilization procedure. But the new Montana law, and others like it that have passed or been introduced in statehouses across the U.S., goes further, to the point of undermining patient care and threatening the right of people to receive lifesaving and essential care, according to critics.

“I tend to call them ‘medical refusal bills,’” said Liz Reiner Platt, the director of Columbia Law School’s Law, Rights, and Religion Project. “Patients are being denied the standard of care, being denied adequate medical care, because objections to certain routine medical practices are being prioritized over patient health.”

This year, 21 bills instituting or expanding conscience clauses have been introduced in statehouses, and two have become law, according to the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute. Florida lawmakers passed legislation that al …

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