COLUMBUS, OHIO – Today, the ACLU of Ohio and law firm Baker Hostetler filed a lawsuit challenging the so-called ‘medical conscience clause,’ which was snuck into Ohio’s biennial 2022-2023 budget, for violating the Ohio Constitution. This amendment of the budget bill (H.B. 110), signed into law by Governor DeWine on June 30, allows medical providers, hospitals, and health insurance companies to refuse to provide or pay for a medical service if they believe doing so would violate their religious, ethical or moral beliefs or principles. Discrimination in healthcare has an especially severe impact on LGBTQ+ people and individuals living with HIV/AIDS.
The legal challenge, filed in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas on behalf of Equitas Health, seeks to declare the provision void and without legal effect for violating the single-subject rule of the Ohio Constitution. The Healthcare Denial Law was not passed as a freestanding item subject to the usual scrutiny and public debate of legislation. The Ohio Constitution requires bills to be limited to a single subject to prevent the logrolling of unnatural provisions into a single bill.
“The Healthcare Denial Law was snuck into an unrelated appropriations bill in the eleventh hour behind closed doors. Our constitution’s single-subject rule serves an essential democratic purpose in placing concrete limits on the power of the General Assembly. This extremely broad and vague provision is harmful to healthcare providers serving the LGBTQ+ community, who now face legal and monetary risk in ensuring their patients receive appropriate and necessary care. Religious freedom is not a license to discriminate,” said Amy Gilbert, staff attorney for the ACLU of Ohio.
“This law hurts Equitas Health’s ability to fulfill its mission of providing quality healthcare and preventative services to the LGBTQ+ community, individuals living with HIV/AIDS, and others who experience healthcare disparities,” offered Karl Fanter, partner at BakerHostetler and pro bono counsel for Equitas Health.
H.B. 110 was first introduced on February 16, 2021, yet the language of the Healthcare Denial Law – a mere two pages of the bill’s 2,400 pages - wasn’t added until June 9, after dozens of public hearings in the House and Senate had already concluded. This discriminatory and vague amendment was snuck in at the last minute without any opportunity for the people of Ohio to discuss and debate its controversial language.
“Equitas Health will always stand up for the rights of our patients. The relationship between a patient and their medical provider is built on trust. This law puts that trust in jeopardy, further marginalizing the people who need our services most. The effects of this law are so chilling that our board of trustees has determined we can no longer wait. The time to fight for our patients’ rights is now,” said Kaarina Ornelas, Equitas Health board chair.
As the premier provider of healthcare targeted to the LGBTQ+ community, Equitas Health faces immediate harm to its patients, staff and community, in attempting to comply with the vague requirements and limitations of this unconstitutional law. The plaintiff asks the court to enter a declaration that the Ohio legislature enacted the Healthcare Denial Law in violation of the Ohio Constitution.
Read the complaint below.