Under the guise of “religious freedom,” Alabama has enacted two laws in the last ten days that are aimed at allowing discrimination against LGBTQ couples and women. Religious freedom is a fundamental American value. It guarantees us the right to believe—or not—as we see fit. It does not, however, grant anyone the right to use religion to discriminate or harm others.
First up, HB 95 places the religious views of health care providers (defined so broadly as to include any employee at a hospital or medical or nursing school) above the medical needs of patients. Under this legislation, healthcare providers and other employees could cite religious beliefs to refuse to provide nearly any service or do any task related to abortion, human embryonic stem cell research, sterilization, and (oddly enough) human cloning.
In fact, HB 95 could put patients’ lives and health at risk. A doctor or nurse could cite their religious beliefs in order to refuse to administer a medically necessary procedure for women who had a miscarriage or stillbirth because the definition of “abortion” is not limited to voluntary termination of pregnancy. A woman who is experiencing an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy might call a public clinic and describe her symptoms to get medical advice. A receptionist who recognizes the symptoms as an ectopic pregnancy but is morally opposed to the use of methotrexate—a drug commonly used to treat ectopic pregnancies—could refuse to schedule an appointment, arguing that doing so requires her to “participate” in the dispensation of a drug she believes causes abortion even though an ectopic pregnancy is unviable and may result in the woman’s death if untreated.
The second harmful bill, HB 24, allows state-licensed adoption agencies to invoke religion to ignore the state’s licensing standards. Although aimed at allowing these agencies to deny LGBTQ people the chance to provide a safe and loving home for a child, the law’s reach is much broader. It gives these agencies the ability to refuse placement to single people, a couple who both work outside the home, or a couple who attend a church with different religious beliefs than those held by the agency. Ultimately, the law allows a state-licensed agency to place its religious beliefs of the agency above the best interest of children who need safe, loving homes.
Americans United’s Alabama Chapter wrote letters to Governor Kay Ivey urging her to reject HB 24 and HB 95 and stand against discrimination in the name of religion. Unfortunately, these laws misuse religious freedom, granting a right to discriminate, to deny patients possibly lifesaving care, or to get out of state licensing requirements designed to promote the best interests of children. Americans United will continue to fight against this type of legislation in statehouses around the country and on Capitol Hill. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter to learn more.