LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed new legislation that would allow doctors and other health care workers in Arkansas to refuse to perform certain services if they have “conscience-based objections.”

Senate Bill 289, also known as The Medical Ethics and Diversity Act, is a new version of a measure that was first presented in the 2017 legislative session.

Hutchinson opposed the measure at that time but said in a statement announcing the bill signing that changes in the proposal would “ensure that the exercise of the right of conscience is limited to ‘conscience-based objections to a particular health care service.’”

With its passage, this new law would also allow health care facilities to not offer some procedures or services that the organization running the facility objects to on the grounds of a “right of conscience.”

It would also allow for companies to refuse to pay for medical services for employees under the same guidelines.

The governor also said he looked for exemptions for emergency care and that the new bill could not lead to a class of people from being denied general health care.

“I have signed into law SB289, The Medical Ethics and Diversity Act. I weighed this bill very carefully, and it should be noted that I opposed the bill in the 2017 legislative session. The bill was changed to ensure that the exercise of the right of conscience is limited to ‘conscience-based objections to a particular health care service.’ I support this right of conscience so long as emergency care is exempted and conscience objection cannot be used to deny general health service to any class of people. Most importantly, the federal laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, and national origin continue to apply to the delivery of health care services.”

The bill passed through the Senate and House with wide margins.

The ACLU of Arkansas released the following statement on Friday in regards to Governor Hutchinson signing the bill into law:

“There is no sugarcoating this: this bill is another brazen attempt to make it easier to discriminate against people and deny Arkansans the health care services they need,” said Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas executive director. “Religious liberty is a fundamental right, but it is not an excuse to discriminate against people or deny them health care. As Governor Hutchinson himself recognized when he opposed nearly identical legislation in 2017, discrimination is not an Arkansas value – no matter how politicians try to disguise it. Discrimination on the basis of sex – including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity – is a violation of federal law, and so we’ll be watching and working to ensure no Arkansan is denied life-saving health services because of who they are.” 

ACLU of Arkansas

There have been objections that the law would give medical providers broad powers to turn away LGBTQ patients and others.

The new law will take effect until late this summer.