Advocates concerned Alberta conscience rights bill could put trans people at risk

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Advocates say a bill before the Alberta legislature, purported to defend the conscience rights of health-care professionals, could effectively legalize discrimination against transgender people. Critics say the bill strips the requirement for health-care professionals to refer a patient to another physician if the patient's needs conflict with their personal or religious beliefs. "This bill, as it stands, is going to create a situation where there will be legal, government-sanctioned discrimination," said Holly Tomm, president of the Trans Equality Society of Alberta. "It needs to be stopped." The private member's bill was tabled by United Conservative Party backbencher Dan Williams on Thursday. Williams told the legislature that Bill 207 is meant to ensure health-care professionals don't have to choose between their convictions and their jobs. Alberta private member's bill to reopen debate on physician conscience rights UCP MLA-elect Dan Williams attends anti-abortion rally to 'support my friends' Tomm said it could give doctors who have personal or religious beliefs that deny trans people's identities the legal grounds to deny services or a referral to another doctor. "When your beliefs affect my rights, that becomes harm," Tomm said. Right to timely, effective care To qualify for gender affirming surgery in Alberta, a trans person must get a diagnosis of gender dysphoria from one of five psychiatrists in the province with a specialization in transgender psychiatry. Gender dysphoria is when a person's gender doesn't align with the sex they were assigned at birth. Tomm is concerned the bill would make it legal for a physician to refuse referring a patient to those psychiatrists, or even directing the patient to another doctor who is willing to give the referral.  She said it could have implications around access to hormone therapy. Even in cases where a patient's needs are not trans-specific, Tomm said she fears a physician could deny general care. "You, as a citizen of this province, are being denied your right to timely and effective health care based on somebody else's beliefs," Tomm said.  Conscientious beliefs The bill passed first reading on Thursday, with all UCP members present voting to advance debate, including the Health Minister Tyler Shandro. A spokesperson for Shandro's office said the minister and his staff did not advise or help draft the bill. Apart from the potential effects on trans health care, Tomm and other critics have said the legislation could have broad impacts on LGBTQ patients, as well as access to abortions, contraceptives and medically assisted death. The bill says a regulating body, such as the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons, cannot compel a health-care professional to "directly or indirectly" perform a service or make statements contrary to their "conscientious beliefs."  The bill also seeks to amend the Alberta Human Rights Act to include conscientious beliefs as prohibited grounds for employment discrimination.