Respect Equality

South Carolina House passes bill for doctors to deny care that violates ‘conscience’

The bill would excuse medical practitioners, health care institutions and health care payers from providing care that is inconsistent with their personal beliefs.
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Story at a glance

  • Legislators in South Carolina on Friday passed a bill which would allow healthcare providers to deny care based on their personal beliefs. It would also apply to insurance companies, which may be entitled to refuse to pay for care.

  • The bill would also protect those who decline to provide medical services from civil, criminal or administrative liability.

  • Some say the bill, known as the “Medical Ethics and Diversity Act,” would disproportionately affect the LGBTQ+ community, as well as women and people of color.

South Carolina lawmakers on Friday passed a bill allowing medical professionals and insurance companies to deny care based on personal belief. Some say the legislation, which now heads to the state Senate for consideration, would disproportionately impact LGBTQ+ people, women, and people of color.

Under the bill, titled the “Medical Ethics and Diversity Act,” South Carolina law would be altered to excuse medical practitioners, health care institutions and health care payers from providing care that violates their “conscience.” It would also shield those who decline to provide medical services to patients from civil, criminal or administrative liability.

Dozens of state residents in February testified against the bill, calling it vague and overbroad. They also shared concerns that the legislation would disproportionately impact marginalized communities.


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In a statement on Friday, Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said she finds it “disturbing” that politicians in South Carolina are prioritizing individual providers’ beliefs over the wellbeing of patients.

“This legislation is dangerously silent in regards to the needs of patients and fails to consider the impact that expanding refusals can have on their health,” she said. “Religious freedom is a fundamental American value that is entirely compatible with providing quality, non-discriminatory healthcare. It is not a license to deprive others of their rights simply because of personal beliefs.”

Warbelow said the bill sends a message to patients with non-medical views inconsistent with that of their doctors that they are “not equal members of society entitled to dignity and respect.”

“Let’s call this what it is – a vicious, discriminatory attack on vulnerable patients, including those who care for LGBTQ+ people,” Warbelow said.

According to the HRC, the bill could enable administrative staff to decline to submit insurance claims or health care providers to override patients’ end of life directives. Receptionists may also be entitled to turn away patients and medical researchers could refuse to publish the results of a state-funded study because the scientific evidence is inconsistent with their personal beliefs.

The South Carolina bill is just one of more than 320 pieces of legislation under consideration in state legislatures which discriminate against LGBTQ+ people, according to the HRC, which tracks such legislation.