A Republican-backed bill in South Carolina that would allow doctors to refuse non-lifesaving medical care to LGBTQ people has stalled after they realized it would allow doctors to refuse to treat those unvaccinated against COVID-19.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Josh Kimbrell (R-Spartanburg), was purportedly introduced to protect doctors and other medical professionals from being fired, demoted, or sued if they refuse to provide non-emergency services or perform specific procedures to which they morally object, such as gender confirmation surgeries.
The bill also seeks to reverse an unrelated ordinance, approved last June in the city of Columbia, that prohibits the practice of subjecting minors to so-called “conversion therapy,” reports the Columbia-based newspaper The State.
Socially conservative groups, including the South Carolina Family Caucus and the Palmetto Family Council, are determined to pass the bill to ensure that medical professionals can foist their personal beliefs on others by refusing to treat LGBTQ people for non-life-threatening conditions.
Additionally, attacking the Columbia law is a gift to churches and other entities — often allied with or supportive of Republican politicians — that promise to “change” a person’s identity and seek to bilk the families of LGBTQ youth out of significant amounts of money while never having to deliver on the outcomes they promised.
Because the bill speaks of moral objections, and not just religious objections, the number of treatments or procedures a doctor or nurse could refuse to provide is seemingly limitless and could include, for example: the refusal to perform, participate in, or even prepare a room for, a gender confirmation surgery; the refusal to prescribe PrEP or HIV medication to a gay person due to their personal animus towards homosexuals; the refusal to treat a sick baby of a same-sex couple because of objections over the couple’s marital status; or a refusal to treat injuries suffered in an anti-LGBTQ attack or hate crime because of the belief that an LGBTQ person’s mere existence was justification enough for the act of violence directed against them.
Although the South Carolina Family Caucus is invested in ensuring the bill becomes law — along with other bills attacking transgender youth by barring them from competing on sports teams matching their gender identity or denying them access to gender-affirming care — some lawmakers expressed concerns that the bill, as written, could backfire against political allies, such as vaccine skeptics or those who believe the COVID-19 pandemic is being exaggerated or unnecessarily prolonged.
Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) questioned whether the bill could discriminate against the unvaccinated, noting that Pope Francis suggested that getting the vaccine is a “moral obligation,” and questioning whether a Catholic doctor could cite the bill as justification for refusing to treat those who choose not to get vaccinated.
Sen. Shane Martin (R-Spartanburg) said he feared the bill could be used to stop patients from accessing alternative COVID-19 treatments such as the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine.
“This bill, it all sounds good, but what I’m worried about is we’ve got our state right now threatening to punish doctors who are treating COVID outside of the Big Pharma protocols,” he said.
Those concerns apparently swayed some members of the Medical Affairs Committee, who postponed taking a vote to move the proposed bill out of committee and onto the floor of the full Senate, representing the first stumbling block for social conservatives insisting that passing the bill is essential.
LGBTQ advocacy group SC Equality condemned the bill as “another brazen attempt to make it easier to discriminate against people and deny LGBTQ South Carolinians the health care services they need.”
“Religious liberty is a fundamental right, but it is not an excuse to discriminate against people or deny them health care,” the group said in a statement.
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