Committee votes against 'conscience rights' bill heading to legislature
EDMONTON -- A private member's bill proposing Alberta doctors be allowed to refuse to offer both a service and referral on moral grounds hit a likely fatal roadblock Thursday night.
A standing committee on private members' bills heard feedback from six people and organizations Thursday night—including four doctors, the Trans Equality Society of Alberta, and Dying With Dignity Canada—before voting against Bill 207, The Conscience Rights Protection Act.
"I cannot support this bill going forward," UCP Highwood MLA R.J. Sigurdson said at the meeting.
"In my opinion, the way that the bill stands, it will do harm."
Bill 207 was sponsored earlier this month by Peace River MLA Dan Williams. It proposed reasserting the Charter-protected freedom of conscience and religion for health providers.
Currently, medical professionals in Alberta have the right to object, but they must refer patients to other services or information. Bill 207 proposed undoing that rule.
Prior to Thursday's meeting, both public and government debate centered around the impact Bill 207 would have on Albertans' access to services like abortion, contraception, euthanasia or medically assisted death—particularly in marginalized and rural communities.
Thursday night, those concerns previously raised by advocates and the provincial NDP were echoed by both a doctor and a transgender rights advocate.
"Conscience rights are used by anti-abortion groups, specifically and openly as a way to reopen this debate," Dr. Jillian Ratti told the committee.
Holly Tomm, president of the Trans Equality Society of Alberta, argued Bill 207 would further decrease health care access for members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community.
"If we reach out to those agencies and we get a stone wall—no other referrals—no other information—we crawl back into our closets and we start harming ourselves," Tomm said.
However, the feedback heard by the committee wasn't all negative.
Dr. Kiely Williams argued rural physicians may leave or quit if their beliefs are not protected.
"If we don't allow the freedoms for people to object, my point is that we will lose it for everyone."
Ultimately, only two of the committee's 10 members voted in support of the "conscience rights" bill moving forward, meaning the committee will recommend the bill does not move forward to the legislature.
Janis Irwin, the Official Opposition's critic for women and LGBTQ issues, called the 8-2 vote a victory.
The committee also discussed and voted unanimously to send Bill 205, Human Tissue and Organ Donation (Presumed Consent) Amendment Act, to the assembly.
That piece of legislation would see Alberta implement an opt-out organ donation system.
With files from CTV Edmonton's Sean Amato