WREN Testimony in Opposition to S.811
by WREN Staff on Jun 22, 2021
As prepared for Senate Medical Affairs Subcommittee hearing on June 21, 2021.
Thank you, Chairman Martin, and members of the subcommittee, for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Ann Warner and I am the CEO of the Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network (WREN). WREN is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization with a mission to build a movement to advance the health, economic well-being, and rights of South Carolina’s women, girls, and their families.
On behalf of our organization, I ask committee members to vote NO on S.811.
S.811 is a dangerous and far-reaching bill that permits any person participating in health care service to deny care to individuals for any reason, without a medical justification. South Carolina would be creating a health care system where patients’ health needs come second to health care workers’ personal beliefs. No one should be denied health care because of the personal beliefs of a person working in a health care facility, hospital, or pharmacy.
This sweeping legislation provides no patient protections, leaving people vulnerable to the whims of any health care worker, as long as the health care worker deems the basis of their refusal of care to be a reason of “conscience.”
A health care worker who refuses to treat does not have to ensure that the patient has comprehensive information about their health status, diagnosis, or prognosis. They can refuse to provide a referral and fail to ensure that patients get needed care elsewhere.
Patients may not get the care they need, either because they cannot find a health care provider in a timely fashion or because they avoid treatment for fear of discrimination. The health consequences of such a sweeping law could be catastrophic on an individual and societal level.
South Carolina already has extremely poor indicators when it comes to healthcare access and healthcare outcomes.
- South Carolina ranks 37th in the nation for health care access
- South Carolina ranks 50th in the nation in healthcare for pregnant mothers and newborns.
- We rank 50th in number of midwives and Obstetricians / Gynecologists per capita.
- Our maternal and infant mortality rates are among the highest in the nation, and both are far higher for Black mothers and infants.
- COVID Vaccination rates are the bottom 10 in the nation.
By creating more barriers to care, this legislation would send all of these indicators in the wrong direction. And it will have a disproportionate negative impact on women, LGBTQ people, people living in rural parts of the state, and their children.
Broad conscience refusals mean that healthcare workers could refuse to provide care to anyone, but the most severe impact would be on women, LGBTQ people, their families, and others who already face barriers to health care.
In some areas of the state, where there is a lack of healthcare providers, if one person refuses treatment, there may be no alternative source of care available.
Some examples of how people could be denied care include:
- An unmarried person could be denied contraceptive care.
- A person could be denied fertility treatments based on the number of children they already have if they are unmarried, or because of who they are in a relationship with.
- Transgender people could be refused any transition-related or gender-affirming care.
- A person could be denied a COVID vaccine because the healthcare worker has an objection to the patient’s political beliefs.
- A patient’s treatment could be interfered with or even prevented by staff whose duties are very remotely connected to a procedure they object to—like bringing food to a patient, scheduling a follow-up, preparing a patient’s room, or transporting them from one room to another—refusing to do their job.
- This bill could impact children as well. There have been instances where healthcare workers have refused to care for children because they have an LGBTQ parent. In Michigan, a pediatrician turned away an infant for a newborn checkup because the baby had two mothers.v
We are just beginning to emerge from the worst pandemic in a century, which has taken the lives of more than 8,600 South Carolinians and upended our economy and our educational system. WNow is the time to invest the resources of the General Assembly into fortifying our health care system so that our population is healthier and more resilient – we should not be devising new ways to polarize our communities and pit patients and providers against each other. Let’s do all we can to support our health care workers and the people who rely on them so that we can advance the health and dignity of ALL.
Please vote NO on S.811.
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