Metro Weekly

State Of Ohio Sued Over Anti-LGBTQ “Conscience Clause”

The provision, approved last year, allows medical providers to refuse to treat patients based on "moral, ethical, or religious beliefs."

karolina grabowska via pexels

Equality advocates have sued the state of Ohio over a provision that allows any medical provider to deny services to patients — regardless of their identity — due to their religious beliefs or moral values.

Last year, the Republican-led Ohio legislature approved a so-called “conscience clause” exemption for medical providers and attached it to the 2021 budget, which Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law.

But due to the negative impact that such an exemption could wreak on multiple communities — especially the LGBTQ community — the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, along with the Baker Hostetler law firm, sued to block the state from enforcing the law.

The lawsuit, filed on April 29 in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, was filed on behalf of Equitas Health, a nonprofit organization that provides health care services to LGBTQ individuals across the state.

In the lawsuit, Equitas Health argues that the conscience clause was “not passed as a freestanding item subject to the usual scrutiny and public debate of legislation,” and was thus not properly analyzed or studied before being attached to a must-pass bill.

“At the eleventh hour, one Ohio Senator added the law’s language to the General Assembly’s $74.1 billion 2022-2023 budget bill—two pages buried in over 2,400 pages,” the lawsuit states. “Members of the General Assembly were never offered the opportunity to vote either for or against it on its own merits.”

Equitas Health argues that the clause, despite supposedly protecting healthcare providers’ right to deny service to anything that violates their deeply held “moral, ethical, or religious beliefs,” only serves to intensify discrimination felt by LGBTQ individuals.

“The [clause] renders Ohio’s healthcare organizations effectively powerless to protect their patients from the humiliating and harmful effects of discrimination,” the lawsuit states, noting that employers would be prohibited from disciplining any employee, who, of their own accord, chose to refuse to provide certain types of care. “[The clause] renders healthcare organizations like Equitas Health powerless to enforce their own mission.”

Many medical and healthcare institutions in Ohio almost immediately opposed the clause upon its adoption. Kelly O’Reilly, the president and CEO of the Ohio Association of Health Plans, explained that healthcare providers already have “protections” to allow them to not participate in medical practices that violate their moral standards under very specific circumstances. To O’Reilly, there was no need for this clause; it was “a solution in search of a problem,” reports The Plain Dealer, a Cleveland-based newspaper.

Defending his decision not to veto the budget until the provision was removed, Governor DeWine has stated that LGBTQ individuals denied by medical providers can simply go to “other medical professionals” who are more accepting.

In a statement, Amy Gilbert, an attorney for the ACLU of Ohio called the clause “extremely broad and vague” and argued that it will only cause harm to LGBTQ people by placing additional burdens on them, such as having to vet and confirm the attitudes of providers on LGBTQ issues prior to seeking necessary care.

“Religious freedom is not a license to discriminate,” she said.

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