The head of the organization that represents Alberta’s physicians has reached out to the province’s health minister to “state some concerns” about a conscience rights bill that passed first reading in the legislature last week.
“The bill has generated attention and anxiety among physicians and patients,” Alberta Medical Association president Christine Molnar wrote in a letter to Health Minister Tyler Shandro on Nov. 13.
“I disagree with Dr. Molnar’s view that the bill is unnecessary,” Williams said in an emailed statement on Wednesday. “While she correctly points out that these protections already exist and I agree with her assertion that they are appropriate and effective, committing these rights to law will provide greater certainty and clarity for health-care workers.”
Williams has said he wants the bill to pass so that “health-care providers… never have to choose between their most deeply held beliefs and their job.”
Earlier this year, Williams posted a photo of himself at a pro-life rally at the Alberta legislature in which he thanked “all who came to voice your deeply held beliefs.”
Last week, the MLA said the bill is meant to protect freedom of conscience and is not intended to limit health-care services. However, some critics have raised concerns that it could restrict access to health-care services for sexual minorities and women seeking abortions or contraceptives.
On Wednesday, Williams reiterated his position.
“This bill will not limit patients’ access to these services,” he said. “Around the province, health-care professionals have thoughtfully and collaboratively dealt with these issues in order to ensure patients have access to health services while protecting the conscience rights of providers.
In her letter, Molnar acknowledges Bill 207 is not “government-sponsored” legislation but indicates that she believes Shandro needs to hear concerns being raised by AMA members.
“There are already protections in place for health-care providers,” the letter says. “Respecting physicians, the process currently in place under standards of the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta, is appropriate and effective.
Molnar wrote that what she considers to be “the more serious issue” the legislation poses, is that it “may have unintended consequences in limiting patient access to services.”
“For physicians, the current state protects conscience rights, while also ensuring that patients are given information or referral to allow them to pursue access to the desired service,” the letter reads. “This arrangement has served Albertans well and should be maintained.”
Last week, when asked for a response to critics suggesting that Bill 207 is aimed at starting a debate over whether to restrict women’s right to access abortions, Shandro said “it’s very clear that our government is not reopening this debate.”
You can read Molnar’s letter in its entirety below: