New anti-LGBTQ bill proposed in Florida

Ron DeSantis speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. "Ron DeSantis" by Gage Skidmore is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

A proposed Florida bill would give doctors and insurance companies freedom to deny care to LGBTQ patients. HB1403, titled the Protections of Medical Conscience Act, was proposed by the Health & Human Services Committee and Healthcare Regulation Subcommittee of the Florida House of Representatives.

The bill would allow healthcare providers to refuse to treat or pay for the treatment of people based on “conscience-based objections without… threat of adverse actions.”

The shortened intention of HB1403 on the Florida House of Representatives website is succinct. HB1403 “Authorizes health care providers & health care payors to opt out of participation in or payment for health care services by conscience-based objections without discrimination or threat of adverse actions; requires health care provider to notify patient and health care provider’s supervisor or employee or educational institution in writing when such health care provider declines to participate in health care services; prohibits boards and Department of Health from taking certain disciplinary actions.”

Under the law, doctors and insurance companies could deny treatment and payment if they feel the patient goes against their religious, moral or ethical beliefs. This would, critics say, impact women and LGBTQ people directly, as doctors could claim they have religious, moral or ethical objections to treating LGBTQ+ patients, or providing medical care such as birth control, abortion referrals or gender-affirming care. 

The bill also provides doctors and insurance companies with legal protection for their objections, and doesn’t require them to refer their patients to another doctor. 

Members of the Florida House Health and Human Services Committee voted to approve the bill April 10. It will now reportedly head to the full house for consideration.

Speaking to reporters, house Democratic leader Fentrice Driskell called the bill “dangerous and discriminatory.” 

“This would allow a healthcare provider or insurer to deny medical care to a patient based on religious, moral or ethical opinions,” Driskell said. “You can imagine how this could be weaponized against the LGBTQ+ community, but could also be abused against abortion, contraception… or any medical procedure.

“This is dangerous, it’s discriminatory, it’s not well thought-out, and will make Floridians’ already-expensive healthcare worse in terms of quality.”

The bill is yet another in a series of anti-LGBTQ+ laws advanced in Florida under Gov. Ron DeSantis’s anti-LGBTQ aegis as he prepares a presidential run for 2024. 

Just over a year ago, DeSantis inaugurated his “Don’t Say Gay” law, which banned discourse, teaching, and books on queer and trans identity in early grades. On April 19, that law was officially expanded to limit gender and sexual orientation instruction in all school grades K-12 grades in the state. The Miami Herald reported that the State Board of Education voted to bar Florida middle school and high school teachers from “intentionally” teaching students about sexual orientation or gender identity, unless the lessons are part of a reproductive health course or are “expressly required” by the state’s academic standards. Teachers who do otherwise could be suspended or have their teaching license revoked.

This ruling on education combined with the new medical guidelines could put all LGBTQ youth and adults in danger in the state. In March, Florida lawmakers banned transition care for transgender youth. The bill, HB1421, also banned insurance coverage of transition-related medical care for adults. HB1421 prohibits treatment for both new patients and children and teenagers currently undergoing treatment. Sponsored by Republican Reps. Randy Fine and Dr. Ralph Massullo, HB1421 would give existing patients until the end of 2023 for the “gradual discontinuation” of that treatment. Doctors who violate HB1421 could face a third-degree felony.

Human Rights Campaign (HRC) said in a statement about that ban, “Florida lawmakers have no shame. This discriminatory bill… is a cruel effort to stigmatize, marginalize and erase the LGBTQ+ community, particularly transgender youth. The Human Rights Campaign strongly condemns this bill and will continue to fight for LGBTQ+ youth and their families who deserve better from their elected leaders.” 

Advocacy groups have urged LGBTQ people to avoid Florida due to all the restrictive laws. Equality Florida, an LGBTQ advocacy group, warned that “Florida may not be a safe place to move or visit” over the state’s anti-LGBTQ laws, restrictions on access to reproductive health care, its repeal of gun safety laws, and racial prejudice.

“As an organization that has spent decades working to improve Florida’s reputation as a welcoming and inclusive place to live, work and visit, it is with great sadness that we must respond to those asking if it is safe to travel to Florida or remain in the state as the laws strip away basic rights and freedoms,” Equality Florida executive director Nadine Smith said in a statement.

“Florida has recently adopted a slate of hateful laws, and is fast-tracking additional measures that directly target the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals and basic freedoms broadly,” Equality Florida’s statement continued.