Imagine walking into your doctor's or dentist's office for an appointment and being refused service because there's something about you the receptionist just doesn't like. All the receptionist has to do is cite a religious objection, and her rights trump yours.
Earlier this month, President Donald Trump announced a 440-page plan to protect health care workers who oppose certain medical procedures on religious or moral grounds. Medical facilities that don't comply with the protections could be denied federal funds. The rules make lots of room for discrimination against the LGBT community.
Anyone in the service line, from receptionists, lab workers, nurses to doctors, can opt out. The result could be a denial of service to those seeking access to reproductive health care, sexual-reassignment surgery or other procedures -- all at the whim of health practitioners' personal beliefs.
This not a new idea. Civil rights legislation allowing health care workers to avoid some kinds of service based on religious belief has been around since the 1970s. But the scope of the administration's plan is a worrying step backward. After denying a patient care, a health care worker would not be obligated even to suggest alternatives for treatment.
Cutting off access so broadly is dangerous and comes with broader consequences that could revive the so-called religious exception from the 1950s and '60s, when people were allowed to discriminate if they didn't want to serve mixed-race couples.
In Texas, the state legislature has weighed a bill that would allow any state-licensed professional, from doctors to plumbers and electricians, to deny service to individuals based on religion. The bill's sponsors tout it as promoting religious freedom, but the clear purpose is to permit denial of service to LGBT Texans.
Nearly 1,000 businesses have objected, saying the legislation would likely put Texas on a boycott target list. A top leader of VisitDallas, a promotional organization, said the negative impact on tourism alone would be around $100 million.
Individuals, especially in rural areas, would be helpless if denied service because of a nurse or physician's personal objection. Alternative service providers aren't always close by and often are scarce.
Even in less dire circumstances, the discrimination allowed in this legislation would promote a segregation of services that runs directly contrary to civil rights reforms achieved over the past six decades. But Texas is just following the leader in the White House.
There's little doubt that Trump's plan will face a court challenge, as would the one in Texas if it became law. If Texas doesn't want to undergo the nightmarish boycott experience of North Carolina when, in 2017, it placed restrictions on transgender people's access to public restrooms, legislators will kill this bill quickly.
It's bad for business, bad for tourism and marks a startling regression to a long bygone era of legally sanctioned bigotry.
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