Alberta private members bill to reopen debate on physician conscience rights

EDMONTON — Alberta politicians are to debate the role of conscience rights and the responsibilities of physicians asked to assist or advise on abortions, contraception or medically assisted deaths.

United Conservative backbencher Dan Williams is to introduce Thursday a private member’s bill to reassert the Charter-protected freedom of conscience and religion for health providers.

Williams says the bill is in response to an Appeal Court of Ontario ruling this spring.

Ontario’s high court affirmed a lower court ruling that found physicians who object on moral grounds to contentious issues like abortion must offer patients an “effective referral” to another health provider.

The court called it a fair compromise, but groups such as Canadian Physicians for Life say it is still an intolerable violation of their rights.

Currently, the College of Physicians of Surgeons of Alberta directs doctors who do not wish to provide these services to offer patients timely access to either a member or a service that can.

Williams says his bill is meant to simply affirm Charter rights. But the Opposition NDP said the bill is trophy legislation for the party’s social conservative wing and a back-door attempt to limit access to services like abortion.

Williams, the member for Peace River, said that is “absolutely not” the case.

“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,” Williams said Wednesday.

Williams said he has consulted widely with doctors and has heard a lot of concern about “moral distress.”

“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,” he said.

“They feel it’s easier for them to continue practising if they have this (Charter affirmed) certainty.”

NDP health critic David Shepherd said the former NDP government didn’t hear from doctors concerned about conscience rights but it did hear from patients struggling to gain such rights to medical treatment.

Shepherd and Janis Irwin, the critic for women’s issues, said they suspect the bill may have a hidden agenda and noted that Williams attended an anti-abortion March for Life rally at the legislature in May.

“I can’t see this being anything other than another backdoor attempt to bring forward legislation specifically looking at abortion, reproductive services, perhaps questions around gender and diverse communities that are seeking treatment from medical doctors,” said Shepherd.

“And (Premier Jason Kenney) has said that this is something his government would not do.”

Kenney, a Catholic, has said his government would not legislate on judicially settled hot button issues like abortion.

Williams is a member of Kenney’s United Conservative caucus but, given he is not in cabinet, is not part of the UCP government.

Without government backing, private members bills face a much steeper and difficult climb to get through multiple stages of debate to become law.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2019.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

physicians

Just Posted

Red life-ring with splash
Started from the bottom: How a family business started and grew in central Alberta

By Carina Moran We started our business in the basement of our… Continue reading

Shiree Appleman
Innisfail RCMP looking for missing woman

Innisfail RCMP is asking the public to help locate a woman who… Continue reading

Rotary Club of Red Deer logo.
Red Deer Rotary Club hosting tree planting event later this month

The Rotary Club of Red Deer will host a tree-planting event later… Continue reading

New admissions have been suspended for Engineering Technology diplomas (Instrumentation, Electrical and Mechanical) and the Transitional Vocational Program at Red Deer College. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Developmentally disabled impacted: Red Deer College suspends program

Transitional Vocational Program comes to an end

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw is asking Albertans to do their part by observing gathering limits, staying home if unwell, wearing masks and maintaining physical distance. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Three new Central zone COVID-19 deaths, Alberta adds 1,433 cases

Red Deer down to 802 active cases of COVID-19

Bo’s Bar and Grill owner Brennen Wowk said the hospitality industry is looking for more clarity from the province around what conditions must be met to allow for restaurants reopening. (Advocate file photo)
Frustated restaurant owners want to know government’s reopening plan

Restaurant owners feel they are in lockdown limbo

Welcoming cowboy boots at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. The bar and hotel are up for sale. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘It was a going concern’: Remaining bar and hotel in Alberta coal ghost town for sale

WAYNE, Alta. — Built during the First World War, it survived the… Continue reading

A letter from a bottle that washed up in New Brunswick in 2017 is shown in an undated handout photo. A team of researchers from Université du Québec à Rimouski are trying to solve the mystery of whether a letter in a bottle that washed up in New Brunswick in 2017 was indeed from a young victim of Titanic shipwreck or simply a hoax. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, N. Beaudry, UQAR *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Real or hoax? Quebec scholars probe mystery letter allegedly from Titanic passenger

MONTREAL — Researchers from Université du Québec à Rimouski are trying to… Continue reading

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau takes part in a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. Advocates, experts and opposition MPs say correspondence showing close communication between the federal Transport Department and the Canadian Transportation Agency regarding passenger refunds throws into question the independence of the CTA, an arm’s-length body. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Emails reveal close communication between government, transport regulator on refunds

OTTAWA — Advocates, experts and opposition MPs say correspondence showing close communication… Continue reading

Pharmacist Barbara Violo shows off a vial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Toronto on Friday, March 12, 2021. Several family doctors and physician associations across Canada say they welcome questions from anyone concerned about second doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca or any other COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Family doctors say they can answer vaccine questions, after Trudeau recommends them

Several family doctors and physician associations across Canada say they welcome questions… Continue reading

The Olympic rings float in the water at sunset in the Odaiba section of Tokyo, Wednesday, June 3, 2020. A new Leger poll suggests Canadians are divided over plans to send athletes from Canada to the upcoming Olympic games in Tokyo as Japan grapples with climbing COVID-19 cases. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Eugene Hoshiko
Canadians divided on sending Team Canada athletes to the Tokyo Olympic Games: poll

OTTAWA — A new poll by Leger and the Association of Canadian… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Harley Hay: Insert your name here

Back in the Paleolithic Era when a McDonald’s cheeseburger was 29 cents… Continue reading

Black Press file photo
Job search: Write a request that will get accepted

Last Thursday, when I logged into LinkedIn, I had nine connection requests… Continue reading

T-shirt with vaccine shot. (Contributed photo)
Letter: Hand out T-shirts with vaccine shots

I made myself a graphic T-shirt recently after getting my vaccine shot.… Continue reading

Most Read