Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi announced on May 29 that the Liberal government plans to table a bill in the fall in order to legislate “bubble zones” that would ban pro-life demonstrations and sidewalk counseling near any abortion facility. Most abortion facilities have a legal injunction preventing pro-life activity within 30 feet of their facilities, but the so-called temporary injunction, which expired in December 2016, affects only those abortion mills that were in operation at the time the injunction was enacted in 1994 when Bob Rae’s NDP were in power.
The Ottawa Citizen reported in April that women going to the Morgentaler Clinic on Bank Street, which did not exist in 1994 and is thus not named in the injunction, were being harassed. An abortuary staff member told the paper women must view abortion propaganda and one time a client was spat upon. LifeSiteNews reported that one pro-life protester said the harassment is aimed at those counseling abortion-minded women and peacefully picketing the facility.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson wrote to Ontario’s Attorney General requesting an “Access to Abortion Services Act” for the entire province. Watson issued a statement saying, “Anyone seeking or providing abortion services should have the right to do so without feeling harassed, threatened or afraid for their safety.” He explained that an Access to Abortion Services law modeled on existing statutes in Newfoundland and British Columbia “would help ensure that those individuals have the protection they need.”
When Naqvi made his announcement he was joined by Watson and Ottawa City Councillor Catherine McKenney. Naqvi said during their press conference that it was his “steadfast belief that every woman in Ontario has the right to make decisions about her own health care and she deserves to do so freely without fear, without fear for her safety, privacy or dignity, without fear of being judged or publicly humiliated because of her choice, without fear of being threatened with violence, harassment, or intimidated.” He also said “healthcare” workers should not face intimidation or harassment.
Catherine Macnab, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Ottawa, which partners with the Bank Street abortuary, told the CBC she welcomes the bubble zone law but said it cannot be enacted soon enough. She said “people are going to need protection today, tomorrow and every day between now and then.”
National Post columnist Christie Blatchford noted that there has been “no hard reporting” of harassment or intimidation and wondered about the need for such a law. “Despite the lack of injunction” since December, Blatchford wrote, there have been no “incidents comparable to what the Attorney General described.”
Louise Harbour, executive director of Action Life Ottawa, said her organization condemns the harassment of women and called for an investigation on the need for action before limiting the rights of protesters. She said the media and government are taking the abortuary’s word that harassment of its clients is a major problem.
Jim Hughes, national president of Campaign Life Coalition, called the proposed bill an attack on free speech. “Once again we see the heavy-handed people on the left attempting to remove the right of free speech from those they disagree with.” He told The Interim that media stories focus on unsubstantiated stories of harassment and ignore the many women who have been helped by the counselors outside abortion mills.