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Lawsuit Emerges Over Ohio Medical Conscience Clause Allowing Denial of Treatment to LGBTQ+ Individuals

October 4th, 2022

A judge recently vacated a conscience rule that allows healthcare workers to refuse care or refer in procedures with which they have religious objections.
A medical conscience clause was recently inserted into an Ohio budget bill to allow healthcare workers to refuse service to LGBTQ patients. Now it is the subject of multiple lawsuits.

A recent lawsuit claims that the “medical conscience clause” in an over $70 billion budget bill goes against the terms of the single-subject requirement found in Ohio’s Constitution. This clause lets medical professionals decline to provide services to individuals based on their religious, ethical, or moral beliefs. Ohio’s single-subject regulations prohibit legislatures from placing policies in bills that are not related to a bill’s “inherent” scope. 

The Basis of the Lawsuit

The lawsuit claims that the medical conscience clause was not brought as a freestanding bill due to the expected scrutiny and ensuing argument involving members of the public. The legal action was brought by the ACLU on behalf of the nonprofit Equitas Health, which provides medical services to 13 cities in Ohio, including Canton, Akron, and Youngstown. The lawsuit requests that the judge for Franklin County Common Pleas Court rule that the provision is void and without effect as the result of violating the regulation involving single subjects.

The Role of the Medical Conscience Clause

The medical conscience clause was placed into the bill addressing spending in the form of an amendment toward the conclusion of the cycle of the regulation becoming a law. Following this, several organizations, including the Children’s Hospital Association, the Ohio Hospital Association, and the Ohio Association of Health Plans, published a statement opposing the measure.

Critics have stated that the medical conscience clause permits an entity to discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals as well as people with AIDS/HIV in Ohio. Legislators have repeatedly stated that the clause was added so providers, as well as insurance companies, would not be obligated to perform or encompass gender-affirming care procedures if the procedure went against the provider’s beliefs.

The Governor did not line-item veto the medical conscience clause after signing the budget. Governor DeWine stated that he does not expect this to be an issue. The Governor used abortion as an example. In an abortion context, if one physician does not want to provide an abortion, many other physicians offer similar services.

Response to the Lawsuit 

Plaintiffs argue the new clause is harmful to medical professionals who serve the LGBTQ+ industry, who now face both financial and legal risks in making sure that patients obtain adequate care.

Ohio’s Attorney General has already described this lawsuit as both lacking merit and authority.

In response to this case, a spokesperson for the ACLU published a statement that religious freedom does not give a person the power to discriminate. The legal action states if a medical professional declined to provide care for LGBTQ+ individuals, the employer would be barred from suing them or taking adverse action against the provider.

Another Recent Lawsuit Filed by the City of Columbus

The City of Columbus also recently filed a legal action challenging the medical conscience clause. Columbus argues that the clause may violate the Home Rule provisions in the Ohio Constitution that lets municipalities utilize self-governance. 

Striving for Objectivity

Many people believe that the overturning of Roe v. Wade will have detrimental effects over the next few years on LGBTQ+ rights. Our blog is dedicated to explaining cases in a way that objectively examines both opposing sides of each argument and aims to describe complex issues in a way that can be easily understood by readers.

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