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Florida Bill Would Give Medical Providers Right to Deny Procedures Based on “Conscious Objection”

The proposed legislation makes it possible for healthcare workers and insurance companies to refuse services based on ethical, moral or religious beliefs.

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA — A bill that would give healthcare personnel, providers and insurance corporations the right to decline the performance of medical procedures based on “conscious objection” is making its way through the Florida Legislature. SB 1580, consolidated with House Bill 1403, was debated on the House floor on Monday.

“It is the intent of the Legislature to provide the right of medical conscience for health care providers and payors to ensure they can care for patients in a manner consistent with their moral, ethical, and religious convictions,” the introduction to the bill reads.

This means that a doctor, for example, cannot be forced to perform an abortion or write prescriptions for birth control, should this go against the physician’s privately held beliefs.

When it comes to conscious-based objections of an entity as opposed to an individual, these would be based on its “governing documents; any published ethical, moral, or religious guidelines or directives; mission statements; constitutions; articles of incorporation; bylaws; policies; or regulations.”

The legislation will also protect health care providers’ freedom of speech. It prohibits an employer from taking adverse actions against a healthcare worker for social media posts, for example – as long as these do not include medical advice to specific patients:

“A board, or the department if there is no board, may not take disciplinary action against a health care practitioner’s license or deny a license to an individual solely because the individual has spoken or written publicly about a health care service or public policy,” the bill states.

During the pandemic, there have been instances where medical boards have attempted to revoke healthcare workers’ licenses and accreditations based on dissenting opinions about the mRNA vaccines’ safety and efficacy. With this law, that will be more difficult to do, since the new legislation makes it possible for the state to go after such organizations and agencies, stating that “the board within the jurisdiction of the department may revoke its approval of such specialty board or other recognizing agency.

On Monday, critics of the bill argued that the text is vague and warned that it may lead to unintended consequences. Democrats in the House tried hard to amend it – but every single proposal failed.

“Give me an example of an instance that you think it’s important enough for Floridians to put this into statute,” Rep. Bartleman (D-Broward) asked the bills’ sponsor, Rep. Joel Rudman (R-Okaloosa/Santa Rosa) – who is also a medical doctor.

“A friend that I went to medical residency with at Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach has a family practice office in Ormond Beach. She is currently an employed physician. She also has a sign in her front window that says: ‘I don’t write birth control’, Rep. Rudman said.

“We have a statute that addresses that under the family planning statute, but there is no protection afforded to her for that. So it is conceivable that without this bill, my friend could lose her job,” Rep. Rudman explained.

The bill was tabled for a third reading.