Apr 21, 2022 - Politics

Columbus challenging Ohio's "conscience clause" health care law

Illustration of a judge's gavel with an LGBTQ flag on it, on top of gavel block with the "no" symbol on it

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The city of Columbus is challenging a new Ohio law allowing health care providers to deny forms of medical treatment they personally disagree with.

Why it matters: Critics say Ohioans' access to a variety of health care needs, especially those for women and members of the LGBTQ+ community, are at stake.

  • City Attorney Zach Klein, who is pushing the lawsuit, cites the potential for health care workers to be able to refuse vaccine administration, birth control prescriptions, blood transfusions and HIV/AIDS care.

Details: The "conscience clause" was inserted within the state budget bill approved last year to legally protect workers, institutions and insurance providers' rights to decline any service violating their "moral, ethical, or religious" beliefs.

What's happening: The lawsuit alleges the clause is unconstitutional and violates Columbus' "home rule" authority.

  • It points to the city's myriad of public health services bound by non-discrimination requirements within the Affordable Care Act.
  • The clause also restricts the city's ability to offer employees health care plans with guaranteed coverage, the lawsuit argues, and unfairly protects city health department workers who refuse to carry out required tasks.

The other side: Gov. Mike DeWine and other conservative supporters contend the conscience clause is not discriminatory because those who are denied care from one provider can still receive it from another.

  • In a statement, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost called the lawsuit "meritless, anti-democracy and authoritarian" and said the state would "vigorously" defend the law in court.
  • "It is amazing how little rights of conscience matter to those without one.

The big picture: Numerous other states have similar laws and former President Trump enacted a federal conscience clause in 2019, though it was blocked in court.

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