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Monday, September 27, 2021

O’Toole says doctors must refer for services they object, reversing leadership pledge

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WINNIPEG — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says he believes doctors must refer patients seeking services like abortion or medical assistance in dying to another provider if they object to performing these procedures themselves.

O’Toole faced questions about his position on conscience rights for health professionals after a promise to uphold them appeared in his party’s election platform.

Social conservatives have advocated that doctors and nurses with moral or religious objections to a particular procedure shouldn’t have to refer patients for these services, including abortion, assistance in dying or gender reassignment surgery.

O’Toole courted the party’s social conservative base in last year’s leadership contest in a move many believe contributed to his win over rival Peter MacKay.

He ran for the leadership on a promise to protect the conscience rights of health professionals whose beliefs prevent them from performing a service or offering patients a referral.

Initially O’Toole didn’t directly answer on the campaign trail whether he thought conscience rights extended to referrals, but today says he believes that is something doctors must do.

“Yes, they will have to refer because the rights to access those services exist across the country and this is about striking a reasonable balance,” O’Toole said during a campaign stop in Winnipeg.

“As we see medical assistance in dying expanded, there are some concerns for some in our health-care sector and we can balance those concerns off, but not deny services, so that will be our approach.”

O’Toole accused Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau of trying to divide Canadians because of his attack on Conservatives over the issue.

The Tory leader also rejected suggestions he reversed his stance on the matter since winning the leadership.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 20, 2021.

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