Ohio governor signs bill allowing medical workers and institutions with conscience-based objections to refuse to provide or refer health care services

by | Jul 13, 2021

Via Religion Clause, included in the budget bill (Am. Sub. House 110) recently signed into law by Gov. Mike Dewine, R-Ohio, are provisions protecting health care workers and institutions from having to provide services to which they have a conscience-based objection. Such workers or entities, the law states, may decline to “perform” or “participate in” any service that violates their “moral, ethical, or religious beliefs or principles.”

Importantly, the provision clarifies that the right of conscience is “limited to conscience-based objections to a particular health care service.” (emphasis added) Presumably, that limitation means health care providers could not refuse service on the basis of the identity of the patient, including their religious identity. According to Metro Weekly, Dewine assured critics that “[p]eople are not going to be discriminated against in regards to medical care” under the provision, which he could have removed via line-item veto. But nondiscrimination advocates warn that the measure threatens to deny certain basic or even medically necessary care to Ohio’s LGBTQ community.

The Ohio law also allows any health care worker or institution with a conscience-based objection to refuse to refer such services to another provider, though in such a case the patient must be notified and “provided the opportunity to seek an alternate medical practitioner.”

In 2019, a federal court vacated a Trump administration rule granting broad conscience protections to health care providers on the grounds that it exceeded the administration’s authority and would require an act of Congress. The court also found “factually untrue” the claims made by the Department of Health and Human Services of a “significant increase” of civilian complaints related to conscience protections. The ruling was appealed to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which paused the case in February of this year to give officials for the Biden administration an opportunity to reassess the rule.