By Tim Bloedow
The Interim

Alberta has now bypassed Ontario in terms of progress on the matter of protecting the job security of health care workers who refuse to participate in abortion procedures. On March 1, Alberta Progressive Conservative MLA, Julius Yankowsky (Edmonton Beverly-Clareview), introduced in the provincial legislature a Private Member’s Bill 212 that would protect health care workers who refuse to participate in abortions.

Last year a group of Ontario nurses won a settlement from Markham-Stouffville Hospital, which had required them to participate in the killing of unborn babies despite religious objections. The case had travelled through the provincial human rights tribunal and a ruling was about to be made on it. Ontarians, however, are still waiting for a bill to be introduced in the legislature despite extensive work that has been done between the Toronto-based Coalition for Conscience and the now-dormant Family Issues Caucus of the provincial Progressive Conservative MPPs.

Bill 212 would forbid an employer from refusing to employ, promote or advance a health care worker simply because “the health care professional is not willing to take part in or counsel a medical procedure that offends a tenet of the health professional’s religion or the belief of the health professional that human life is sacred.”

It also forbids employers from disciplining, dismissing or threatening health care professionals on the same basis.

The bill goes beyond simply abortion, which is a strategy some prefer because such a bill is difficult to attack as an “anti-abortion” bill. On the other hand, some worry that such broadly applicable wording would allow Jehovah’s Witnesses to refuse to help with blood transfusions. Legal advisers have said existing laws already govern such situations.

Late last year when a similar measure, Bill C-207, was debated in the House of Commons, government spokesman (parliamentary secretary to the minister of health) Yvon Charbonneau told Parliament that it was inappropriate for them to be discussing such legislation because it dealt with health care, a matter of provincial jurisdiction.

Pro-life Albertans hope that their provincial legislators have heard this message and that they are prepared to require employers to respect the Charter protection for the freedoms of religion and conscience when it comes to health care workers who believe that life is sacred.