By Cole Parkinson
While Bill 207 may have hit a roadblock, it may not be a total dead stop.
The bill centres around conscience rights for health practitioners which would provide immunity from discipline for health providers who refuse to address patient needs that offend their conscience, including opting to decline to provide a referral.
Sitting on the Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members’ Public Bills, Cardston-Siksika MLA Joseph Schow was one of two members voting in favour of the bill, the other was Brooks-Medicine Hat MLA Michael Glasgo.
“My voting record is pretty clear. I was one of two members who voted against non-concurrence. It is a bit of a complicated process to explain but effectively the committee decided that they didn’t feel the bill was prepared or ready to be debated, or should be debated by the legislative assembly so they voted for non-concurrence. I voted against that which meant I didn’t agree with the committee’s decision. Eight of the members did vote for non-concurrence and what that means is now the bill goes back to the chamber and for one hour max, we will debate the non-concurrence motion by the committee. We started that on Dec. 2, but unfortunately, that was interrupted by the speaker because of the man who tragically took his own life on the steps of the legislature,” explained Schow in an interview with the Advance in December. “I have always been a defender of conscience rights. I think they are fundamental and they are under the fundamental freedoms in the charter. So, when this bill came forward, I spoke to the mover of the bill, Mr. (Dan) Williams (Peace River MLA), about the purpose of the bill. I was fully in support of this.”
The bill was discussed once again in the legislature during the committees meeting on Nov. 21 and Schow was vocal in his support for conscience rights. Dr. Jillian Ratti was one of the speakers at the legislature arguing against Bill 207 and Schow asked her a question around conscience rights.
“Just quickly and just for clearing the record, this committee does not have the ability to kill any bill. We simply make recommendations as to whether a bill should move forward in the chamber. But to the question. From 1928 to 1972 Alberta had in place the Sexual Sterilization Act as government policy from the state. That had doctors forcibly sterilize vulnerable people as part of wider eugenics movement. This was considered normal and appropriate medical care and had substantial public support at the time. Let’s flashback to 1949. Say that you were living then instead of 2019. Would you participate or refer forced sterilization?” asked Schow.
“I resent the fact that you are comparing abortion to eugenics, and I won’t answer your question,” replied Ratti.
Schow answered back that he was simply asking a question and not comparing the two.
“Dr. Ratti, I did not compare abortion to eugenics. I’m simply asking you about a conscience matter here. I believe conscience is important. I believe you have every right to practise medicine as you do, and I support that right one hundred per cent. But the question is simply – it’s about conscience rights and conscientious objections,” he said.
While the bill eventually was voted down, further discussions are coming quickly around whether or not to proceed. Come the new year, Schow is prepared once again to discuss the bill and see where things go.
“That is for the legislature to decide. We do strongly believe in free votes. There is also the question of what happens in the new year with the new session and it is the premier’s prerogative to prorogue or not to prorogue. There is a lot of factors up in the air and at this point, I am taking the bill as it is, in the current moment. And with Mr. Williams interrupted while he was speaking, that is where we are at. As it comes forward, I will determine how to move forward and I will continue to support the bill.”