Critics Slam DeSantis' New 'Medical Freedom' Law

Florida bill allows doctors, insurers to refuse services based on religious, moral, ethical beliefs
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 12, 2023 8:37 AM CDT
Critics Slam DeSantis' New 'Medical Freedom' Law
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a Heritage Foundation leadership summit on April 21 in Oxon Hill, Maryland.   (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

On Thursday, Ron DeSantis signed what his office is touting as "the strongest legislation in the nation for medical freedom," with four separate bills that the Republican governor says offer "expanded protections [that] will help ensure that medical authoritarianism does not take root in Florida." One bill in particular, however, is drawing opposition from various groups who say it opens the door for dangerous discrimination against marginalized patients, especially those in the LGBTQ+ community.

Per the Pensacola News Journal, Senate Bill 1580 protects physicians' "freedom of speech," allowing doctors and insurance companies to make a "conscience-based objection" and refuse services to patients based on their own religious, moral, or ethical beliefs. An ACLU analysis of the legislation finds it won't only apply to doctors and nurses, but also to hospitals, nursing homes, mental health providers, and pharmacies, among other entities. A section of the bill notes that services can't be refused based on "race, color, religion, sex, or national origin," but Democrat lawmakers in the state noticed it didn't offer protections for disability, gender identity, sexuality, or marital status. Their attempts to have that wording added were rebuffed.

"This bill screams, reeks of discrimination," Democratic state Sen. Tracie Davis says, per the Tampa Bay Times. The paper notes there are already "conscience" clauses in existing state and federal law that cover medical providers who don't want to offer abortions or prescribe contraception. This legislation now effectively gives them the leeway to refuse any procedure that goes against their beliefs. Republican state Rep. Joel Rudman insists he co-sponsored the bill to keep patients from playing "Dr. Google" and coming up with their own treatment ideas, per the News Journal.

story continues below

"They think they know what they need," says Rudman, who also told the Times he's been investigated by the American Board of Medicine for pushing back on COVID restrictions. Brandon Wolf of Equality Florida, a group advocating for the LGBTQ+ community, agrees with Davis. "No one should be denied access to medical care," he tells the News Journal. "This puts patients in harm's way, is antithetical to the job of health care providers, and puts the most vulnerable Floridians in danger." The law takes effect on July 1. Other bills signed by DeSantis on Thursday bar gain-of-function research in Florida and prohibit "discrimination" against residents based on their COVID-19 vaccination status. (More Ron DeSantis stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.