COLUMBIA — Doctors and other medical providers in South Carolina can refuse to perform non-emergency procedures they find objectionable under legislation steps from becoming law.
The bill approved 28-15 by senators May 10 protects doctors, nurses and health care facilities from lawsuits for denying non-lifesaving services they find wrong on moral or religious grounds.
Medical professionals fired for refusing to participate in treatments against their convictions could sue their employer.
Supporters say it’s about ensuring health care workers aren’t forced to violate their conscience. Opponents include LGBTQ advocates who contend it’s about enabling discrimination and denying needed care.
Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, insisted that’s not the case, saying it’s about objections to procedures not people.
Examples of things he said no doctor, nurse, technician or medical student should be forced to participate in included assisted suicide, sterilization, genetic experimentation and research on embryonic stem cells. They could also deny giving hormonal treatments to transgender youth or writing birth control prescriptions to teenage girls, he acknowledged.
“No physician should lose their job because they decline to perform these services,” Grooms said. The so-called “right of conscience” bill “provides a layer of protection so they can say, ‘No, I won’t do this.'”
The bill would expand on existing state law protecting doctors who refuse to perform an abortion.
That 1974 law, passed in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision, says physicians, nurses and health care employees can’t be required to perform or assist in an abortion if they advise their employer of their objections in writing.
South Carolina is among 46 states that allow doctors to refuse to provide abortions, according to the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research organization.
State law also already protects pharmacists who decline to provide emergency contraception known as the morning-after pill.
The legislation echoes expanded legal protections put in federal regulations in 2019 by the Trump administration.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President Joe Biden intends in the coming weeks to undo those rules, which were blocked by numerous court challenges.
States that passed similar legislation include Arkansas and Ohio, where it was inserted into that state’s budget package. A lawsuit challenging Ohio’s budget clause was filed last week.
A perfunctory vote in the Senate would return the bill to the House, which approved the bill 81-26 in March. If the House agrees to the Senate’s changes, the bill will head to Gov. Henry McMaster’s desk.