Bill 207 would limit pa­tient ac­cess to abor­tion

Doc­tors could refuse to treat pa­tients with no con­se­quences if it of­fends con­science

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - DON BRAID Don Braid’s col­umn ap­pears reg­u­larly in the Cal­gary Her­ald. [email protected] Twit­ter: @Donbraid

There seems to be an air­borne virus that threat­ens premiers. For Jason Ken­ney, char­ter­ing a plane for $16,764 to fly some friendly premiers to Saska­toon is in­ex­pli­ca­bly fool­ish.

Now, this is noth­ing like ex-premier Ali­son Red­ford’s “ghost rid­ers in the sky,” the tech­nique of book­ing non-ex­is­tent pas­sen­gers on a govern­ment plane, leav­ing the legroom to her­self and her en­tourage.

Air Ken­ney’s pas­sen­gers do ap­pear to be real rather than ghostly. The ex­cuse — Stam­pede hos­pi­tal­ity plus govern­ment busi­ness — is at least de­fen­si­ble.

But still, the op­tics of char­ter­ing a plane when you’ve just dropped the most dif­fi­cult cost-cut­ting bud­get in a gen­er­a­tion are hor­ri­ble.

The episode masked a much more con­se­quen­tial mat­ter this week — the in­tro­duc­tion of Bill 207, called the “Con­science Rights (Health Care Providers Pro­tec­tion Act.)”

It might seem in­nocu­ous at first, but this bill is a sig­nif­i­cant back­door effort to limit pa­tient ac­cess to abor­tion, all in the name of con­science.

The pri­vate mem­ber’s bill, spon­sored by Peace River

UCP MLA Dan Wil­liams, will be de­bated and quite pos­si­bly passed.

It pro­vides im­mu­nity from com­plaint or dis­ci­pline to health providers that refuse to deal with pa­tients whose needs of­fend their con­science.

The bill never uses the word abor­tion, which makes it po­ten­tially wide-reach­ing. Con­science rights could also be ex­panded to help for LGBTQ peo­ple and as­sisted death.

None of this should come as a sur­prise. Ken­ney has al­ways said he will not in­ter­fere with the abor­tion ser­vice. But there’s a twist that sug­gests some­thing like Bill 207 was in­evitable if the UCP won the elec­tion.

Asked about abor­tion ac­cess last Feb. 12, Ken­ney said:

“Amongst the so-called so­cial con­ser­va­tives I know in the party, they’re not talk­ing about that is­sue. They just want the govern­ment to leave them alone when it comes to cer­tain con­sti­tu­tion­ally pro­tected free­doms of con­science and re­li­gion.”

But Bill 207 wouldn’t just leave these health providers alone. It would ex­pand their right to im­pose their con­science on pa­tients while mak­ing them im­mune from crit­i­cism.

First, it would re­quire any health reg­u­la­tory body that re­ceives a com­plaint about a doc­tor’s re­fusal to “im­me­di­ately dis­miss the com­plaint.”

Fur­ther, any ob­jec­tion to a de­ci­sion based on con­science could not even be rec­og­nized as a com­plaint or grounds for com­plaint. Nor could the doc­tor’s be­hav­iour be re­garded as un­pro­fes­sional con­duct.

Health providers would also be im­mune from law­suit for any de­ci­sion “based on their con­sci­en­tious be­liefs.”

While elim­i­nat­ing the abil­ity to ques­tion a health provider, the bill also ex­tends the grounds for re­fus­ing ser­vice from sim­ply “re­li­gious be­liefs” to in­clude “con­sci­en­tious be­liefs.”

One of the big­gest is­sues for these con­science health providers is whether, in deny­ing ser­vice, they are obliged to re­fer a pa­tient to some­one who will pro­vide the ser­vice.

Many were alarmed by an On­tario court de­ci­sion in May which re­quired physi­cians to make an “ef­fec­tive” re­fer­ral to a will­ing health-care provider.

Bill 207 skirts the is­sue.

It says: “For greater cer­tainty, noth­ing in this Act dero­gates from a health care provider’s or re­li­gious health care or­ga­ni­za­tion’s obli­ga­tions to their pa­tients, which may in­clude in­form­ing in­di­vid­u­als of op­tions in re­spect of re­ceiv­ing a health care ser­vice.”

Note the word “may.” The bill does not con­cede that physi­cians have a duty to re­fer pa­tients.

MLA Wil­liams didn’t just write this bill on the back of a nap­kin. He cites wide con­sul­ta­tion as well as sig­nif­i­cant med­i­cal and le­gal sup­port for his view.

Wil­liams says, “Let me be clear, this bill not only pro­tects free­dom of con­science, but it also in no way lim­its ac­cess to health ser­vices in the prov­ince.”

But it’s hard to see how, if doc­tors have to­tal dis­cre­tion to ex­er­cise and de­fine con­science, it would not have some im­pact on ac­cess.

Many UCP MLAS — maybe more than one-third — are against abor­tion. Anti-abor­tion groups ag­gres­sively re­cruited and funded their cam­paigns for UCP nom­i­na­tions.

It worked. “The nom­i­na­tions have gone very well for the pro­life move­ment,” said a Fe­bru­ary note over the name of Cameron Wil­son, di­rec­tor of po­lit­i­cal ac­tion for the Wil­ber­force Pro­ject.

“How­ever, as al­ways, we now need to keep the can­di­dates who won their nom­i­na­tions ac­count­able and on track to en­act­ing pro-life pol­icy should they win in the gen­eral elec­tion.”

Ken­ney, him­self an abor­tion op­po­nent, has al­ways said he learned a les­son from ex-prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper — don’t re-leg­is­late con­tentious mat­ters that are al­ready fixed in law.

Well then, the premier should vote against Bill 207.

This is not just a mi­nor guar­an­tee of con­science rights.

It broad­ens the con­science power sig­nif­i­cantly. It of­fers pro­tec­tions to doc­tors ex­er­cis­ing that power, with­out ever men­tion­ing pa­tients.

And that’s not a small mat­ter, no mat­ter how the UCP tries to pitch it.

As al­ways, we now need to keep the can­di­dates who won their nom­i­na­tions ac­count­able and on track to en­act­ing pro-life pol­icy.

LARRY WONG

Premier Jason Ken­ney has al­ways said he will not in­ter­fere with the abor­tion ser­vice. But there’s a twist that sug­gests some­thing like Bill 207 was in­evitable if the UCP won the elec­tion, writes Don Braid.

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