Province Proposes Serious Changes to Areas Around Abortion Clinics

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There has been a lot of controversy over the years surrounding abortion-related protests. It’s not unheard of for an individual accessing or providing abortion services to be initimidated or interfered near an abortion clinic or office, or even near their home. Whether you advocate for a woman’s right to choose or otherwise, it might interest you to know that the province is proposing some new rules to the areas surrounding an abortion clinic and anywhere related to one.

The government has introduced a new act - the Safe Access to Abortion Services Act, 2017 - that aims to create safe access zones, where, basically, abortion-related protests are prohibited. This would essentially allow women to access abortion services without fear of interference, intimidation or harassment. Further, the act extends to protect clinic staff and abortion service providers at their homes and offices.

The legislation would also prohibit harassing conduct anywhere in Ontario, directed at clinic staff and regulated health professionals who provide abortion services.

Safe access zones are spaces where activities such as advising a person to refrain from accessing abortion services, abortion-related protests and activities that intimidate or interfere with individuals accessing or providing abortion services would be prohibited. In safe access zones around homes, similar activities would be prohibited if they are directly targeted at, or are about the clinic staff member or health professional who lives in the home,” said the province in a statement.

Here are the proposed sizes of the automatic safe access zones:

  • The size of the automatic safe access zones around clinics would be 50 metres, but this size could be decreased or increased up to 150 metres by regulation.
  • Other facilities that provide abortion services (ie. hospitals, health centres, and pharmacies) could apply for safe access zones of up to 150 metres.
  • Health professionals who provide abortion services outside of clinics could apply for safe access zones of up to 150 metres around their offices.
  • Staff at Ontario abortion clinics and health professionals who provide abortion services outside of clinics, would receive automatic safe access zones of 150 metres around their homes.

While it’s unfortunate that something like this is necessary, in any case where safety is an issue, it’s only fitting that preventative and protective measures are taken.

"Our government is standing up for every woman's right to choose, and protecting the safety of abortion service providers,” said attorney general Yasir Naqvi. “The proposed safe access zones would mean that patients, visitors and staff are able to enter and depart from clinics and facilities that provide abortion services in a manner that protects their safety, security, health and privacy."

You may or may not have known, but British Columbia, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador have already enacted safe access zone laws over the past few decades. So, if anything, Ontario is a little behind.

"Safe Access Zones put health equity first,” said Sarah Hobbs Blyth, executive director at Planned Parenthood Toronto. “These zones protect our clients' right to access the services that they need without harassment. The intimidation tactics used by anti-choice protesters harm those accessing mental health, primary care, and abortion services alike. We commend the province for introducing legislation that will safeguard reproductive choice and other healthcare services."

Violating the safe access zones would have very serious consequences. In fact, anyone who engages in a prohibited activity within a safe access zone could be slapped with a fine of up to $5,000 and/or imprisonment of up to six months upon their first offence. For second and subsequent offences, fines could range between $1,000 and $10,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 12 months.

Our government's proposed safe access zones would protect a woman's fundamental right to fair and equal access to safe abortion,” said minister of the status of women, Indira Naidoo-Harris. “It's an important step forward, and one that strengthens the rights of all women in Ontario. Women in our province should be able to access health care, free from the threat or fear of violence or harassment."

This is a serious and impactful new act, but it remains to be seen whether or not it will pass, and if so, to what extent.

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