Rachel Notley’s NDP government in Alberta has introduced Bill 9, which, if passed, will ban pro-life witnessing outside the province’s two abortuaries: the Women’s Health Options in Edmonton and Kensington in Calgary.
Bill 9, the “Protecting Choice for Women Accessing Health Care Act,” was tabled April 4. It will ban pro-life counselors from counseling women seeking abortions to change their minds by offering support of any kind or picketing with pro-life messages. Protesters and counselors will be prohibited from taking part in any pro-life activities within 50 meters of the two abortuaries, which are responsible for 75 per cent of the province’s abortions. Currently, both abortion facilities have court orders requiring pro-life protesters to remain across the street from their facilities.
Bill 9 would also allow abortionists to apply for a 160-meter bubble zone around their homes and 20-meter bubble zones around their offices.
If Bill 9 passes, it will also be illegal to record video or audio or take photos of individuals going into or leaving the abortion facility. Violating the bubble zone can result in a six-month jail term and a $5,000 fine. Penalties can double for any subsequent infractions.
Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said the law is necessary to stop the “deliberate … intimidation, shame, harassment and bullying of women” by pro-lifers.
Stephanie Fennelly of the Wilberforce Project told Global News there is “no issue with harassment or intimidation outside” abortion facilities, so the bubble zone law is unnecessary. Edmonton Pro-Life condemned the “censorship zones” as a “violation of Charter rights” that “prevents people from offering help to women outside abortion facilities in Alberta.” They are encouraging supporters to write to their MLA to oppose Bill 9.
While several United Conservative Party MLAs spoke out against Bill 9, leader Jason Kenney and others in the UCP caucus said they will abstain from the vote. Kenney said the NDP government is focusing on social issues like abortion to distract voters from its dismal economic record.
The Liberal and Alberta parties said they support the NDP government on Bill 9.
If Bill 9 becomes law, Alberta will join British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and Labrador and Newfoundland in enacting anti-free speech bubble zones.