Sakatchewan-Wanuskewin MP Maurice Vellacott has reintroduced a bill that would protect the conscience rights of healthcare workers. Read about it here.
I like the fact that he framed his bill in freedom of choice although I strongly feel that the irony will be lost on self-proclaimed “choice” advocates – as the weeping and gnashing of teeth over bill C-484 reminds us daily. If choice is, as we are told by Ujjal Dosanjh, “paramount,” it depends for whom and in what circumstances. As with everything abortion, the supremacy of choice is so relative it becomes absolute.
Re-introducing his bill in the Commons, Vellacott declared:
Mr. Speaker, the bill would prohibit coercion in medical procedures that offend a person’s religion or belief that human life is inviolable. The bill seeks to ensure that health care providers will never be forced to participate against their will in procedures such as abortions or acts of euthanasia.
This is a good thing. I have argued before that the right to have a conscience was but an empty shell without the right to act on it. And unlike what abortion advocates would have you believe, the abortion debate is everything but settled. In the absence of consensus on the morality and health benefits of abortion, it stands to reason that individual health care professionals should be the arbitrators of what they are about to perform.
I have not yet read Vellacott’s proposed bill but here are some hurdles I expect it to face. To begin, Vellacott’s bill will face the same accusations of back-doorism as bill C-484. But where Vellacott’s proposed bill notoriously parts from C-484 is that it might de facto prevent some women from getting abortions. Maybe not in large urban centers; but faced with a conscientious objector in a rural area, women might not have another choice but to pursue the pregnancy. Don’t shoot me for pointing The Other Side to their choice argument; they are well aware of it already.
So what does it all mean for any law that would protect conscience rights at the risk of limiting access? It will be the object of a Charter challenge pitting women’s rights and freedoms against those of health care practitioners. “But”, you tell me, “abortion is not a right in Canada.” Nope, but you can bet the farm that a bill such as Vellacott’s will push abortion advocates into the debate they don’t want to have. The only way to tear down Vellacott’s kind of bill will be to argue that it limits women’s rights and freedoms in a way that is neither reasonable nor justifiable in a free and democratic society.
Hopefully, we will be ready for that challenge when it knocks at our door. Because if abortion is enshrined as a constitutional right, there is no telling where that train will take us.
Rebecca asks: Maybe someone can clear this up for me. It should be pretty straightforward for most doctors to avoid ever performing an abortion once they’re finished their schooling. I’ve heard that it can be a lot harder to get through medical school without carrying one out, and some people have argued to me that since a D&C (the procedure by which most abortions in Canada are carried out) is often necessary for things other than aborting a pregnancy (primarily removing tissue after a miscarriage) it’s legitimate for medical schools to require that graduates know how to do a D&C.
I’ve always wondered, though – precisely since many D&Cs are done for reasons other than abortion, why couldn’t pro-life medical students train by doing those (non-elective, non-aborting) procedures? There is a big difference between the ability to perform a procedure (which is identical whether it’s removing a viable living fetus from the uterus or removing dead tissue) and the circumstances under which it’s done. In practice, how hard is it to be pro-life in medical schools these days?
Véronique says: Your reasoning is right in theory. My experience talking with pro-life med students is that this is more about power than about D&Cs.
I should maybe share the experience of a brilliant young man I met some years ago. He was invited for a med school interview following the selection of a written essay. The essay topic was “An Event that Changed Your Life.” Innocent, he wrote about attending World Youth Day in Toronto. During his interview he was grilled on his position on abortion. The interviewers asked about nothing else. When he was turned down for med school, his interview report said that the committee believed that his religious convictions would prevent him from offering optimal medical care to women. He appealed this decision to the University’s human rights board for religious discrimination and the University upheld the committee’s decision. He applied to another University, kept quiet about his religion and was admitted.
But I think you ask a great question: how hard is it to be pro-life in medical schools these days? I would love to hear our readers’ input.