New law lets South Carolina providers, payers deny care that conflicts with personal beliefs

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster signed the Medical Ethics and Diversity Act into law June 17, allowing healthcare institutions, medical practitioners and health insurers to deny non-emergent care that conflicts with their "religious, moral or ethical beliefs."

"As the right of conscience is fundamental, no medical practitioner, healthcare institutions and healthcare payers should be compelled to participate in or pay for any medical procedure or prescribe or pay for any medication to which the practitioner or entity objects on the basis of conscience, whether such conscience is informed by religious, moral or ethical beliefs or principles," the act states. "It is the purpose of this chapter to protect medical practitioners, healthcare institutions and healthcare payers from discrimination, punishment or retaliation as a result of any instance of conscientious medical objection."

Coverage under the law is sweeping. "Healthcare institution" covers any public or private hospital, clinic, physician group, ambulatory surgical center, private physician office, pharmacy, nursing home, medical school, nursing school or any entity "in which healthcare services are performed on behalf of any person." By "healthcare payer," the law covers insurers, employers or any entity that pays for a patient's healthcare in part or in full. By "medical practitioner," the law covers anyone asked to participate in any healthcare service.

The act took effect upon the governor's signing. South Carolina is the latest state to protect healthcare providers' "right of conscience." Arkansas enacted a similar proposal in March 2021. 

South Carolina Senator Larry Grooms championed the Medical Ethics and Diversity Act. Supporters of the law include the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston; opponents include the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Human Rights Campaign.

The law can be found in full here.

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