Rep. Brandt Smith’s bill to protect health care workers and insurance providers from liability if they refuse health services on moral grounds was defeated in a House committee this morning. The vote was 8-11. It can be presented a second time.

Dr. Gregory Bledsoe, the state surgeon general and an avowed conservative Christian, spoke eloquently against the bill. In his years of practice, he said, he’s never encountered a dilemma envisioned by the bill that hasn’t been accommodated. He related how a doctor he knows who opposes abortion was unwilling to prescribe a morning-after pill to prevent pregnancy, but had worked out an accommodation for women seeking it.


Moreover, Bledsoe said, such legislation sends a bad signal to the rest of the country and to people in individual groups — such as religious minorities and LGBT people — who might feel threatened.

Questions were raised about the bill’s definition of a “deeply held belief.” What does that mean, several asked. And when does a medical condition become “life threatening,” and thus protected even against a moral objection? Backers of the bill insist that the law requires emergency treatment.


Smith insisted his bill was about forcing someone to perform a specific procedure.  He suggested it was to be sure reasonable accommodations could be made for non-emergency procedures.

Democratic Reps. Fredrick Love and Steve Magie spoke against the bill. Magie, a physician, noted no professional groups or businesses had supported the bill. He said an insurance company might refuse coverage for treatment of a fetus near the viability stage, to flip the debate against the pro-life groups pressing for the bill.


Rep. Robin Lundstrum supported the bill by saying it provided coverage to lesser health care workers, unlike doctors and nurses already protected. She suggested it would protect Catholic hospitals, but another committee member said those hospitals already opt out of abortion and sterilization. “It’s a non-issue in the state of Arkansas,” she was told.

UPDATE: See more from the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network here.