Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Friday signed into law a measure that will allow health care providers to decline to provide services based on their religious or moral beliefs.
While proponents of Senate Bill 289 have emphasized that the legislation is procedure-specific, civil-rights groups say it could allow care to be denied to LGBTQ people.
In announcing his decision to sign SB289, Hutchinson said he weighed the bill very carefully. The Republican governor noted that he had opposed a similar bill during the 2017 legislative session, but SB289 was different in that it limited conscience-based objections to a particular health care service.
"I support this right of conscience so long as emergency care is exempted and conscience objection cannot be used to deny general health service to any class of people. Most importantly, the federal laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, and national origin continue to apply to the delivery of health care services," Hutchinson said in a written statement.
The legislation's sponsor, Republican Sen. Kim Hammer of Benton, has said he believes abortion procedures would likely be the main area affected by the law.
Forty-six states, including Arkansas, already allow health care providers to refuse to provide abortion services, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
"There is no sugarcoating this: this bill is another brazen attempt to make it easier to discriminate against people and deny Arkansans the health care services they need," Holly Dickson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said in a written statement Friday. "Religious liberty is a fundamental right, but it is not an excuse to discriminate against people or deny them health care."
Dickson also noted that discrimination on the basis of sex, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, is a violation of federal law, and that the ACLU of Arkansas would ensure that no Arkansan "is denied life-saving health services because of who they are."
The law will go into effect during the summer.