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Alberta bill to protect conscience rights of pro-life healthcare workers passes first reading

Lianne Laurence Lianne Laurence Follow Lianne

EDMONTON, Alberta, November 11, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — The Alberta United Conservative Party (UCP) passed a private member’s bill on first reading Thursday that protects the conscience rights of healthcare workers and religious organizations who refuse to participate in practices such as abortion or euthanasia.

While mainstream media is full of stories warning that Bill 207 will restrict access to abortion and euthanasia, Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Society, lauded the bill as “fabulous.”

Introduced by UCP backbencher Dan Williams (Peace River),  the Conscience Rights (Health Care Providers) Protection Act reasserts the Charter rights of healthcare professionals to refuse to advise, assist or perform any “medical procedures” — such as abortions, contraception and euthanasia — they object to for personal or religious beliefs, CBC reported.

The purpose of the bill is to “protect healthcare providers and religious health care organizations from being subject to a claim for damages based on the exercise of rights under section 2(a) of the Charter,” it reads.

It will safeguard physicians “from having to do an act or refer for an act that they consider to be morally wrong,” Schadenberg told LifeSiteNews.

A great benefit of the law is that it does not list specific procedures, which allows wide latitude for doctors to conscientiously object to a number of “procedures” based on their religious convictions, he pointed out.

Currently, Alberta has a “1-800” number for a health ministry service that will direct patients who are seeking such morally objectionable services as euthanasia or abortion, and that doctors are expected to give to their patients, he said.

The bill also extends conscience protection to religious organizations, which the Charter does not, Schadenberg said. 

The bill passed 36-15 on first reading, with all UCP members present voting for it and all NDP members voting against it. Premier Jason Kenney was not present for the vote.

Williams tweeted Thursday about the bill’s first step:

However, among media naysayers were Global News talk-show host Charles Adler and Macleans Magazine reporter Jason Markusoff, who tweeted in response:

Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid pointed out the conscience rights’ bill “provides immunity from complaint or discipline to health providers that refuse to deal with patients whose needs offend their conscience.” 

The bill “never uses the word abortion, which makes it potentially wide-reaching. Conscience rights could also be expanded to help for LGBTQ people and assisted death,” opined Braid.

Moreover, CBC ran a story Sunday warning the bill could affect access to hormone therapy or medical treatment for transgender individuals.

The NDP also claimed the bill is the UCP’s attempt to limit access to abortion, but Williams said last Wednesday that is “absolutely not” the case.

“Let me be clear, this bill not only protects freedom of conscience, but it also in no way limits access to healthcare services in the province,” Williams said.

The rookie MLA said his bill was a response to the “moral distress” of doctors who believe their conscience rights are under threat, particularly after the Appeal Court of Ontario ruling last May, the CBC reported.

The appeal court upheld the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s policy mandating that doctors who conscientiously object to certain medical “procedures” must provide an “effective referral” — that is, for the purposes of the act — to their patients.

“There is a real concern. They feel as though within the province, particularly in health care, but in our country at large across all professions and in public, there is an attack on conscientious belief and a diversity of views,” Williams said, as quoted in the CBC.

“This legislation is intended only to protect the Charter rights that individuals have and access to all these (medical) services will continue afterwards as before — no changes,” he added. 

The bill has now been referred to the Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members' Public Bills. There are 63 UCP MLAs in the Alberta legislature to the NDP’s 24.

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