South Peace News
The controversial “conscience rights” bill put forward by rookie Peace River MLA Dan Williams has been stopped in committee.
After the bill passed first reading with support from a majority of the UCP caucus, it went to a Standing Committee on Private Bills. After a passionate debate over the bill, the committee decided it needed further consultation from stakeholders.
The committee heard feedback from six individuals and organizations the night of Nov. 21. The stakeholders consulted by the committee included four doctors, the Trans Equality Society of Alberta, and Dying With Dignity Canada.
Bill 207, The Conscience Rights Protection Act, would have allowed doctors the right both to refuse services based on their religious or “conscientious” beliefs. While doctors and other health care providers already have that right, currently they are required to give patients a referral. The bill would have removed the requirement to provide that referral while protecting doctors who exercised their conscience rights from being subject to any complaints or liability.
The controversial bill made news across the country, with critics worrying it would limit Albertans’ access to medical services like birth control, abortion, euthanasia or medically assisted death, especially in rural communities where there may not be many other health care providers.
Although Williams proposed amendments to the bill which were approved by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta as being more in line with their standard of care, after hearing from stakeholders the committee voted 8-2 for Bill 207 to not proceed back to the House for a vote. Of the eight votes that effectively stalled the bill, four UCP MLAs voted against it.
The UCP MLAs say they have received thousands of e-mails about the bill. UCP MLA Jeremy Nixon, voting against the bill, said he is a firm supporter of conscience rights but he’s also a firm supporter of non-discriminatory access to health care.
Minister of Justice Doug Schweitzer had previously said his constituents in Calgary-Elbow did not support the bill as written, and Health Minister Tyler Shandro had said he could not support the bill if it limited access to healthcare for some Albertans.
Opposition NDP MLA Janis Irwin, who is the NDP critic for women’s and LGBTQ issues, took to Twitter to celebrate the decision.
“We did it. We stopped Bill 207. Albertans, thank you. You spoke out, you wrote your MLAs, you demanded we not take our province backward. This is a victory, but we must remember there’s so much work ahead in the fight for a strong public health care system for all,” Irwin says.