O’Toole says pro-choice stance may dovetail with commitment to protect conscientious rights of health workers

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OTTAWA – Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says he can both be pro-choice and fight to protect the rights of medical professionals who refuse to perform medical intervention on moral or religious grounds.

Speaking on the fifth day of the election campaign, O’Toole defended both views as reporters asked him how he would cope with a doctor or nurse not wanting to perform an abortion because of their beliefs .

“It’s not a contradiction at all. I think it is very important to stand up for the rights of all Canadians. It’s what I’m going to do. Ensure that women have the right to access abortion services across the country. I’m pro-choice, I have a pro-choice record and that’s how I’ll be. I think it is also possible to show respect for our nurses, our health professionals, especially with regard to the expansion of medical assistance in dying, ”he said.

The Conservative platform released earlier this week specifically states that if the party forms government, it will protect the conscientious rights of medical professionals.

“The challenges of fighting COVID-19 have reminded us of the vital importance of healthcare professionals – the last thing Canada can afford to do is kick one of these professionals out of their profession,” we read in the document. “We will also encourage faith-based and other community organizations to expand their palliative and long-term care offerings. “

O’Toole did not directly respond to questions about whether the conscience rights policy would extend beyond physician-assisted dying and also apply to abortion services.

“Let me repeat again, I am pro-choice and we will ensure that women have the capacity to make decisions about their health care for themselves and that abortion services are available from an ocean. to the other, ”he said. “I have been crystal clear throughout my political career, I will be crystal clear as Prime Minister, I am here to defend the rights of all Canadians. “

The issue of access to abortion haunted former leader Andrew Scheer in the 2019 federal election. Scheer said he was personally against abortion, but a government led by him would not ban this practice. Yet opposition leaders criticized him throughout the campaign for not clearly communicating his position.

Before the House of Commons adjourned for the summer recess, O’Toole voted against Saskatchewan MP Cathay Wagantall’s private member’s bill which, if passed, would ban abortions selective according to sex. The bill had the support of a majority of Conservatives.

Liberal ministers have already expressed their belief in protecting the conscientious rights of health professionals with respect to physician-assisted dying.

In November 2020, Justice Minister David Lametti told the House of Commons that the Liberals’ Bill C-7: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying) “enshrines freedom of conscience”.

“No doctor is required to perform the procedure in any way, and we have protected him. It was already protected, and we protected it again in 2016 in legislation, ”he said.

Federal law does not include a provision requiring health professionals to refer patients to a colleague if they are not providing a service; every province has rules about it.

There is no federal law on abortion that regulates the service and indicates the rights of physicians or defines their obligations.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau sidestepped whether his criticism of O’Toole’s position meant that a Liberal government would propose legislation to further enshrine abortion rights so that doctors would be required to refer.

“I think it’s very clear that the Conservative Party, again, doesn’t understand what pro-choice really means. Pro-choice is not the power of doctors to choose, it is the power of women to choose, ”he said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh accused the Conservatives of having missed the boat on this issue.

“We know that the big concern of women in particular is the lack of access to abortion services. And if someone goes to their health care provider and needs help, and the health care provider cannot provide that care, they have a responsibility to make sure they find someone who can. can do it. They have to make sure they have that access, ”he said Thursday.

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