Rep. Kristin Baker runs the NC House Health Committee meeting Thursday.
The legislature is considering a bill that would allow health care workers to deny treatment that conflicts with their moral, religious, or philosophical beliefs.
The proposed legislation would cover a range of health care jobs, from doctors, to nursing home employees, to lab technicians, as well as insurance companies, hospitals and clinics.
Current law allows doctors to refuse to provide abortions if it violates their conscience, or to refuse to honor patient wishes for a natural death.
House Bill 819 is open-ended. It does not specify what services medical professionals would be able to deny based on conscience. It would cover all phases of medical treatment, including diagnosis, testing, and referrals.
Some of the committee members at Thursday’s hearing on the bill questioned what would happen in rural areas with healthcare provider shortages or in medical emergencies.
“There seems to be some pieces of this that are open to interpretation,” said Rep. Sarah Crawford, a Wake Democrat. “My concern is that there would be regular refusal of care for people who need it. It also seems that this bill interferes with the ability to refer patients to another provider where they may get care.”
Rep. Donna White, a Johnston County Republican and one of bill sponsors, said she would work to address concerns before the bill gets its House Judiciary Committee hearing. The bill passed the House Health Committee on a voice vote.
Two members of the public opposed the bill as way for healthcare providers and insurance companies to deny or refuse to pay for gender-affirming health care.
Ray Bandy said the bill would deny lifesaving care. “As a religious Jew, it horrifies me to see people use religion as a cover for bigotry.”
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the NC Values Coalition, spoke in support of the bill.
“Health care providers and pharmacists have been asked and in some cases forced to provide drugs and services that run counter to their deeply held religious beliefs,” she said.
In a statement, Adam Polaski of the Campaign for Southern Equality, denounced the bill.
“HB819 would allow virtually anyone who works in the healthcare field to claim a so-called ‘conscience’ objection to equally and fairly serving people in North Carolina,” wrote Polaksi, the organization’s spokesman. “A receptionist could refuse to check in a patient receiving gender-affirming care. A pharmacist could refuse to fill a prescription for birth control, fertility treatment, or HIV medications like PrEP. A nursing home staffer could refuse to offer trans patients hormone therapy. This is so broad and so dangerous – and lawmakers must reject it.”
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