Rural communities are most vulnerable if doctors or pharmacists refuse service because alternatives are usually scarce or non-existent. Moreover, opponents of the legislation worry that municipal non-discrimination ordinances in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, El Paso and San Antonio could be rendered unenforceable if the bill were to pass.
SMU's Carpenter says that other than the city ordinances, state law provides no safeguards. "It is already perfectly legal to decline service and to do so on a discriminatory basis in the state of Texas," he says. "In fact the law in the state of Texas is that rights of conscience are already protected against state regulation for private citizens and professionals and businesses."
Carpenter says that federal civil rights laws passed in the 1960s provide less protection from discrimination than many might imagine. Race, religion and national origin are protected from discrimination in public accommodations only, such as restaurants, hotels and theaters.
Carpenter believes that, given the already generous legal right to discriminate in Texas, the latest round of bills are merely a way for the Republican-dominated legislature to demonstrate to its evangelical base that they're on the ball.