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Alberta’s controversial ‘conscience rights’ Bill 207 voted down in committee hearing

WATCH: Bill 207, a private member's bill in Alberta that would allow health care workers to refuse medical services and referrals because of religious beliefs, has been voted down.

UCP MLA Dan Williams’ private member’s bill dealing with conscience rights was voted down at a committee hearing at the Alberta Federal Building on Thursday night.

Bill 207 was intended to further entrench health care providers’ ability to deny services or referrals to patients that they morally object to.

READ MORE: AMA president pens letter to UCP health minister to raise concerns over conscience rights legislation

The bill drew criticism with some opponents suggesting it was a way of trying to reopen the debate on abortion.

Alberta’s conscience rights Bill 207 voted down in committee hearing
Alberta’s conscience rights Bill 207 voted down in committee hearing

Others feared it could hinder the ability of sexual minorities, such as members of the LGBTQ community, from accessing services as well as for Albertans seeking a medically-assisted death.

READ MORE: Alberta LGBTQ2 community fearful over conscience rights bill

Williams, who represents the northwestern Alberta riding of Peace River, argued the bill merely served to further solidify conscience rights already in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

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UCP MLA Dan Williams at the Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members’ Public Bills at the Federal Building in Edmonton, Alta. on Nov. 21, 2019.
UCP MLA Dan Williams at the Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members’ Public Bills at the Federal Building in Edmonton, Alta. on Nov. 21, 2019. Global News

The all-party Standing Committee on Private Bills and Private Members’ Public Bills voted 8-2 to recommend not moving forward with the bill in the legislature — however, the bill is not technically dead.

“It’s a bit bittersweet,” NDP MLA Janis Irwin said of Thursday night’s developments, “because we really shouldn’t have been having this conversation in 2019, but we had it, and clearly Albertans have spoken and these folks listened to the will of Albertans.

“While I’m unhappy we had to have this conversation, I’m happy with the outcome.”

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READ MORE: ‘This encourages patient abandonment’: Edmontonians rally against Bill 207 at Alberta legislature

Irwin said she was not entirely surprised a UCP member put forth legislation like Bill 207.

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“There are members of the UCP government who have a history or a track record of attacking LGBTQ rights and women’s rights,” she said.

Before Thursday’s hearing some UCP MLAs already said they did not intend to vote to pass the bill, which had already passed first reading in the legislature.

Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Minister Leela Aheer said she believed the bill was redundant, as conscience rights already exist for Albertans.

READ MORE: UCP MLA’s bill on health workers’ conscience rights passes 1st reading, NDP fear it reopens abortion debate

Williams said the UCP is a “big-tent party” with a diversity of views, so he was not surprised to hear some of his fellow party members did not support the bill.

Thursday night’s committee hearing saw committee members hear presentations from people with a stake in the legislation.

“I heard a lot of passionate, compelling witnesses all around [and] I think this is an important debate to have here in Alberta,” Williams told reporters Thursday night.

“The reason that we’re bringing it forward is that we understand these really important fundamental freedoms — freedom of conscience — are really important to all Albertans.

“We want to make sure that physicians, surgeons, doctors, nurses — everybody — remains in a thought where they can conscientiously object while continuing to make sure health care is accessed.”

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Williams said his bill was not ideological or intended to “doctors and patients against each other.”

In a statement to Global News, the president of the Alberta Medical Association said in the overall scheme of things, this is “most likely the best outcome.”

“Having said that, this bill raised some things that we all need to think about,” Dr. Christine Molnar said.

“It highlighted the importance of the balance between conscience rights of providers and the rights of patients for access to care. I have heard from many physicians in the past two weeks and there has been a lot of discussion everywhere. These debates are ongoing. What’s needed, though, is not legislation, but instead thoughtful and respectful discussion in society. The bill has been a useful catalyst for important conversations.”

WATCH: Some videos from Global News’ coverage of the Bill 207 debate.