Bill 207 has been aborted, at least for the time being.
The controversial piece of legislation, which would have allowed health-care providers to refuse to provide certain medical services under the guise of “freedom of conscience,” was quashed last week in committee. It was a thinly-veiled effort to roll back abortion, assisted suicide and transgender rights as a concession to the religious right. It rightfully provoked fierce public backlash from the very health-care providers whose rights it purported to protect.
The poorly-conceived bill’s own sponsor – Dan Williams of Peace River – agreed to amendments supported by the College of Physicians and Surgeons that would have rendered its contents moot by ensuring that, regardless of their personal beliefs, doctors must provide “timely access to resources that provide accurate information about all available health care services,” among other modifications.
But why didn’t Williams take the views of physicians into account until after the bill was written?
And if the bill’s contents were gutted to balance physicians’ conscience rights – as articulated in Sec. 2 of the Charter – with the right for patients to receive health care – as the college’s standards outline and the Ontario Superior Court has ruled – what is even the purpose of a law?
In any event, these amendments wouldn’t have been put in place until the bill passed second reading, so the committee voted on the proposed legislation’s original version.
This version will go back to the legislature for the final say on whether it gets kiboshed, but it seems highly likely that it won’t pass, given the significant opposition to it within the UCP, a result of significant public pressure put on the party’s MLAs.
To his credit, Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes, who wasn’t in the legislature for the bill’s initial reading, said he wouldn’t have voted in favour it, due to implications of “unintended consequences” and a lack of consultation with stakeholders.
However, Brooks-Medicine Hat MLA Michael Glasgo, who sits on the private members bill committee and voted in favour of the first reading in the legislature, was one of two MLAs on the committee to vote against killing the legislation. The other was Cardston-Siksika UCP MLA Joseph Schow.
Glasgo said that there exists “a lot of groups and a lot of people who would seek to impose a strong hand on doctors, nurses and professionals,” denying the bill would limit anyone’s rights.
She didn’t specify whom she was referring to, but it appears that it was a group of social conservative MLAs attempting to strongarm health-care professionals, not some nebulous interest groups.
Glasgo claimed in a Facebook post that the vast majority of her constituents who reached out to her on the matter supported the legislation.
But the rights of women with unwanted pregnancies, transgender people who want gender reassignment surgery and those on their deathbed ought not to be subject to popular opinion.
This is precisely why we have judicial review – to place a check on government power.
Anti-abortion advocacy group Right Now’s Alissa Golob, who PressProgress reported came down to the Hat to campaign with Barnes and Glasgo when the latter was running for the UCP nomination, was apoplectic, calling the vote “seriously messed up.”
Now, if the purpose of the bill wasn’t to limit abortion access, as its proponents insist, why was an anti-abortion activist so incensed by its failure?
As Medicine Hat College political analyst Jim Groom and Taber Clinic doctor Jill Demontigny said, this legislation served a dual function – to test the waters for re-opening the abortion debate and as a distraction.
A distraction from what? From a cruel budget that imposes austerity on the public to pay for tax breaks for the rich, from firing the the election commissioner who just so happened to be investigating the premier for electoral fraud, from raiding teachers’ pensions, from the fact that oil and gas jobs aren’t coming back.
The goal is to try and shift the terms of acceptable opinion backwards while hoping Albertans ignore what’s going on around them.
Viewed in this light, Bill 207 was at least a partial success.