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Rally against 'conscience rights' Bill 207 gathers hundreds at legislature
EDMONTON -- Criticism swelled on Saturday of a new private member's bill that would undo a requirement of doctors to refer treatment or service which goes against their beliefs, as protestors rallied at the Alberta Legislature to express their concern.
Sanda Azocar, executive director of Friends of Medicare, called Bill 207, The Conscience Rights Protection Act, an unnecessary piece of proposed legislation that would cause discrimination and harm.
She said the bill would allow physicians "to basically say, 'I don't agree with providing those services to whatever selective group of people and I don't have to,' and then those colleges cannot take any type of professional discipline for them."
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.
Bill 207 would effectively remove the requirement.
"We had just a year ago people forced onto the street just to fill the paperwork out for an assisted death, so this is the type of behavior that Bill 207 is encouraging," said Bradley Peter of Dying with Dignity Canada.
United Conservative backbencher Dan Williams said he introduced the bill last week to reassert the Charter-protected freedom of conscience and religion for health providers.
However, the Alberta NDP has said it didn't hear concern from doctors about conscience rights—but that it did hear from patients struggling to gain such rights to medical treatment.
The party's deputy leader, Sarah Hoffman, told CTV News Edmonton on Saturday that she's heard directly from rural leaders a fear that Bill 207 would infringe on access to services.
"There's already enough challenges for women to access birth control and abortion services, and they think this has the risk to make it even more difficult and hurt rural healthcare," she said.
Others at the Saturday protest also said they worried about the impact such a law would have on the LGBTQIA2S+ community, and members' access to treatment and services.
"I could need help, some kind of surgery, even life-saving, and they could just refuse me because they don't agree with who I am," one teen said.
Premier Jason Kenney said earlier in the week he hasn't read the bill yet, but reiterated his position that the United Conservative government would not legislate on judicially settled hot-button issues.
"Our government will not, as I committed, will not bring forward legislation on that and other contentious social issues," he said, adding," Private members have every right to bring forward bills."
Bill 207 sits with the standing committee, which will decide if it should proceed to the legislature for debate.
That decision is expected on Monday.
With a report by CTV News Edmonton's Amanda Anderson