Controversial conscience rights bill in limbo as fall sitting wraps up

The fate of a controversial private members’ bill on conscience rights for medical providers is in limbo as the fall sitting of the Alberta legislature wraps up this week.

On Monday, MLAs were to debate whether they would accept a report from the standing committee on private bills and private members’ bills, which recommended Bill 207 not proceed to second reading. 

Dan Williams, the UCP MLA for Peace River, was speaking about his bill when the house was suddenly adjourned after a man died by suicide on the steps of the legislature building. 

MLAs debated other bills when the house resumed Monday evening. 

Private members business occurs only on Monday afternoons so MLAs will not have a chance to consider the report until the spring sitting, which usually starts in late February or March. 

There is a chance the bill might fail on the order paper if the government decided to prorogue or end the first session of the 30th legislature. 

“No decision has been made about proroguing and it wouldn’t be made in the context of any private members’ bill,” Government House Leader Jason Nixon told reporters on Tuesday. 

“It will be whether or not the government wants to bring a throne speech in the spring.” 

If passed, Bill 207 would allow doctors who are opposed to services like abortion or medical assistance in dying the right to refuse to refer a patient to another practitioner. The bill would also protect them from lawsuits and sanctions by their professional association. 

The bill was widely criticized by physicians, LGBTQ activists and women’s groups. There were concerns the bill could limit access to contraception and abortion for women in rural areas and allow discrimination against transgender Albertans by denying them immediate access to health care

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