Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has signed the “Protections of Medical Conscience Act,” a law that allows healthcare providers or payors to deny service on the basis of “a conscience-based objection,” including any ethical, moral, or religious beliefs. The bill provides no definition for what constitutes a “moral” or “ethical” belief.
The law seeks to protect health care providers and payers from the “threat of discrimination for providing conscience-based health care.” However, advocates worry it’ll be used to deny LGBTQ+ people gender-affirming care, HIV-prevention medication, and other essential and life-saving care.
The law allows any medical provider — including doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, pharmacists, mental health professionals, lab technicians, nursing home workers, and hospital administrators — as well as insurance companies and payment entities, the right to deny care on the basis of any conscientious objection. This care can include refusing to conduct research and recordkeeping or denying medical tests, diagnoses, referrals, medications, and therapy, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) notes.
The newly signed law says denial of care can’t be based on a patient’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, but it provides no protections on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Additionally, the law also allows healthcare employers to discriminate in hiring and bars medical boards from disciplining doctors for spreading misinformation, essentially forcing employers to keep workers who refuse to do their jobs, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) noted.
In a statement, the HRC said the newly signed law “creates a license to discriminate by allowing healthcare employers to discriminate in hiring, and it bars medical Boards from disciplining doctors for spreading misinformation.”
Kara Gross, legislative director and senior policy counsel of the ACLU of Florida, wrote, “This bill is shocking in its breadth, vagueness, and government overreach into the private sector and regulated businesses. It goes far beyond any alleged claims of religious freedom.”
Gross notes that anyone in the medical field — including at public and private schools, colleges, and universities — could choose to deny service to someone they personally dislike. Medical workers could refuse to assist in an active medical emergency, such as helping an unwed mother to give birth. Medical office clerks could refuse to return patient calls, and pharmacists could refuse to dispense contraceptives or medications to heal sexually transmitted infections, citing their “ethical” or “moral” beliefs.
Brandon Wolf, press secretary for the LGBTQ+ organization Equality Florida, told the Pensacola News Journal, “This puts patients in harm’s way, is antithetical to the job of health care providers, and puts the most vulnerable Floridians in danger.”
“Our state should be in the business of increasing access to medical care, not giving providers and companies a sweeping carve out of nondiscrimination laws,” Wolf added. “Shame on the governor for putting Floridians’ health at risk to score cheap, political points.”
DeSantis was joined at the signing ceremony for the new law by State Surgeon General and Department of Health Secretary Joseph Ladapo. He has spoken out against science-based federal guidelines that support gender-affirming care for transgender teens, citing debunked studies about transgender people.
In July 2020, Ladapo appeared in a viral video as part of a group called America’s Frontline Doctors. The video was organized by the Tea Party Patriots, a right-wing group backed by wealthy Republican donors.
The group in the video, which had no epidemiologists or immunologists, promoted the anti-malaria medication hydroxychloroquine as a “cure” for COVID-19, said that face masks don’t slow the virus’s spread, and that COVID-19 is less deadly than the flu — all three claims are untrue. Lapado has written numerous op-eds repeating the video’s false claims.
The video also featured Dr. Stella Immanuel, a pediatrician and religious minister who has said that “demonic seed” inserted into sleeping individuals causes endometriosis and ovarian cysts.