Gov. DeSantis signs bill allowing medical professionals to refuse care if it violates beliefs

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida Gov. DeSantis signed the “Protections of Medical Conscience” bill into law on Thursday, allowing healthcare providers and payors in the state to refuse service based on their moral, ethical, or religious beliefs.

The legislation faced opposition from Democratic lawmakers who sought to extend protections to gender identity and sexuality but were blocked.


The bill ensures medical professionals and insurers will be held harmless both professionally and legally if they opt-out from participating in or paying for a health care service due to their belief it violates their religious, moral, or ethical conscience.

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Action News Jax took statements from several lawmakers while the bill was still on the Senate floor last week.

“This bill screams, reeks of discrimination,” State Senator Tracie Davis (D-Jacksonville) said while debating the bill on the Senate floor on April 28.

Davis voted against the bill, arguing it gives doctors and insurers a free pass to discriminate for any reason.

“We don’t allow firefighters to choose who they save. We don’t allow defense attorneys to leave someone unrepresented,” Davis said.

Katherine Drabiak has a doctorate in medical law and teaches a medical ethics class at the University of South Florida.

She argued that conscience-based protections for medical professionals are already included in federal law.

Read: Senators weigh impact of community health centers on patients

“Physicians and other providers like nurses, don’t have an obligation to treat anybody. They can refuse people as patients for no reason, for any reason, but it can’t be the wrong reason,” Drabiak said.

Drabiak said those wrong reasons are also already covered by federal law, which prevents discrimination based on a patient’s sex, age, or race. Legislation attempts by Democratic lawmakers to extend those protections to gender identity and sexuality were subdued.

During the recently concluded legislative session, Republican lawmakers repeatedly utilized their Christian beliefs to challenge the validity of transgender individuals and endorse bills that imposed limitations on their ability to seek transition-related medical treatment. The legislation itself encompassed a comprehensive explanation of “conscience-based objection,” which was defined as arising from a genuinely held religious, moral, or ethical conviction.

The bill sponsor pointed out that nothing in the legislation allows for discrimination based on the patient themselves.

“Rather, it specifically focuses on what procedure the doctor or nurse is asked to perform,” State Senator Jay Trumbull (R-Panama City) said.

Equality Florida has come out against the bill, arguing it would allow doctors to refuse to treat transgender individuals.

“The bill prioritizes personal beliefs over a patient’s well-being. We are concerned that healthcare providers and insurers will take advantage of the bill’s vague language to use it as a license to discriminate in refusing to offer critically important healthcare,” Equality Florida’s Jon Harris Mauer said in a statement.

Read: Florida lawmaker set to introduce bill banning transgender medical treatments on minors

But Drabiak noted physicians regularly make determinations on how and when to provide care, whether it be something as basic as deciding which medication to prescribe, or how to treat something like a torn muscle.

She argued that conscience-based protections are especially important when dealing with controversial treatments.

“And it’s so that physicians aren’t forced into a position of providing something that they think is actually hurting the patient or hurtful to society,” Drabiak said.

And Drbiak added she doesn’t anticipate the legislation would limit access to care, despite concerns raised by some opponents.

“There’s always going to be choices of where people can go and that the bill some of that baked in. If you call the office, they have to let you know, no, we don’t offer that service,” Drabiak said.

The bill was approved by the Florida Senate on Friday but was temporarily postponed in the House.

The law will go into effect on July 1.

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