A bubble zone sign near a Morgentaler abortion clinic in Ottawa, Ont. Photo from Campaign Life Coalition/Twitter

Alberta looks at bubble zones

By  Chris Berthelot, Canadian Catholic News
  • April 13, 2018

EDMONTON – Alberta’s NDP government has introduced a bill to create 50-metre bubble zones around abortion clinics with the hope of keeping pro-life protesters away from patients and staff.

“This is about freedom from intimidation tactics that rely on shame and stigmatization as well as fear to prevent Alberta women from exercising their choice about their health,” Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said at a news conference April 5. 

But Samantha Williams, executive director of The Back Porch — an Edmonton pro-life advocacy centre — believes the bill is unnecessary and unfairly targets peaceful protesters. 

“I don’t see how women or a couple would be restricted from abortion access just because people are praying across the street,” said Williams. “People who are vegan and protest against butcher shops (are) allowed freedom of speech to protest right outside a meat shop, but pro-life people aren’t allowed that same right.”

If passed, Bill 9 — the Protecting Choice for Women Accessing Health Care Act — would ban demonstrations within 50 metres of an abortion clinic. Similar legislation has been enacted in Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec and Newfoundland.

The latest legislation stipulates that doctors and abortion service providers could also request a buffer zone up to 160 metres for their homes or 20 metres for their offices. 

Taking photos and recording videos of patients and staff would be illegal. It would also be against the law to contact a doctor repeatedly and try to convince them not to perform abortions.

Protesters could face up to $5,000 in fines and six months in jail for a first offence. There are harsher penalties for subsequent offences, including fines up to $10,000 and one year in prison, and corporations can face fines up to $100,000. 

“This is meant as a significant deterrent, and I hope police will never have to use it,” Hoffman said. 

The Back Porch pro-life organization is within 50 metres of Women’s Health Options, a clinic that provides abortions. However, it is considered private property and would not be subject to the legislation. 

Since 2010, more than 103,000 surgical abortions have been performed in Alberta, with 75 per cent of them occurring at the Edmonton and Calgary clinics.

Court injunctions already limit how close demonstrations can be, but pro-choice advocates say protesters regularly violate the injunctions and don’t face any consequences. 

“Protesters routinely violate the injunction with impunity, taking advantage of the fact that the police have little enforcement power via the injunction,” said Joyce Arthur, the executive director for the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada.

Arthur said protesters often harass patients with offensive signs, verbal abuse and occasional attacks, noting the Kensington abortion clinic in Calgary has been vandalized in the past. 

Hoffman argues that the bill is necessary since clinics have seen a significant rise those types of protests. 

But when asked by reporters, Hoffman and Kim Cholewa — the executive director of Women’s Health Options — could not provide data evidence of increased pro-life activity outside clinic. 

“It would just be my gut,” said Cholewa. 

However, critics call it a political move aimed at solidifying NDP support before the next provincial election, expected to be called in the spring of 2019.

“I don’t think this is just a clean attempt to protect women’s rights; this is about supporting their donors and restricting our rights and freedoms,” said Stephanie Fennelly, the executive director of The Wilberforce Project, an Edmonton pro-life advocacy group. 

(Grandin Media)

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