Ohio Passes Controversial Conscience Clause for Doctors

Opposed by LGBT and pro-choice advocacy groups, the measure allows doctors to refuse to perform treatments on moral grounds


Last week, Ohio Republican Gov. Mark DeWine signed Ohio's budget into law with a controversial "conscience clause" intact. This provision gives medical practitioners the freedom to refuse medical services that violate their "moral, ethical, or religious beliefs."

The conscience clause is opposed by some progressive and pro-choice organizations, who argue that it will make it more difficult for LGBT people and women seeking contraceptives or abortions to get the medical care they desire.

The provision reads: "Notwithstanding any conflicting provision of the Revised Code, a medical practitioner, health care institution, or health care payer has the freedom to decline to perform, participate in, or pay for any health care service which violates the practitioner's, institution's, or payer's conscience as informed by the moral, ethical, or religious beliefs or principles held by the practitioner, institution, or payer." 

It also specifies that "exercise of the right of conscience is limited to conscience-based objections to a particular health care service," as opposed to protecting practitioners who object to serving a patient entirely. 

At a news conference last Thursday, DeWine said, "I think we have to respect people's rights and people's abilities to make those decisions." He said the conscience clause "simply puts in statute what the practice has been anyways. Let's say the doctor is against abortion, the doctor is not doing abortion. If there's other things that maybe a doctor has a conscience problem with, it gets worked out, somebody else does those things." 

Not everyone agrees. 

"This bill would effectively give medical practitioners of all kinds the license to discriminate against patients, including LGBTQ people, denying them medically necessary, often life-saving care," said Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David in a statement. "Nobody deserves to be denied medical care for any nonmedical reason. This cruel effort threatens to impact more than 380,000 LGBTQ people in Ohio, one of the largest LGBTQ populations in the country." 

LGBT advocacy organization Equality Ohio, along with Planned Parenthood Ohio and NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, also stated their opposition and staged a "Not Our Ohio, Not Our Budget" protest against the measure last Tuesday.

Similar conscience protections already exist at the federal level for health programs and research receiving federal funding.