“There is the whole rest of the province out there where anybody can speak, leaflet, do whatever he or she pleases to demonstrate their opposition to abortion services.”

With those words, B.C. Health Minister Paul Ramsay attempted to defend his government’s restrictions on pro-life protests in that province. The  legislation which passed last month is euphemistically called “Access to Abortion Services Act.”

In fact, the legislation restricts the rights of pro-lifers to spread their message. It applies outside abortion clinics, abortion hospitals, doctors’ offices and doctors’ homes. At such locations, the law bans various activities including handing out pro-life literature and speaking to women about the alternatives to abortion.

The health minister’s argument is not new. The same suggestion was put forward in Ontario when the government sought an injunction containing similar provisions. It is a seriously defective view of free speech, however, to suggest that so long as most of a geographic area is unrestricted, free speech is preserved.

Free speech only exists when a contrary view can be expressed at a time and place where it may be unwelcome, indeed bothersome. Freedom of speech exists not merely when one is free to say a dissenting word, but when one has the right to say that word in circumstances where it will have a real impact on other persons.

Even in Stalinist Russia one was free to go out into the woods and give the trees inspiring talks on liberty. Indeed, geographically considered, Russia was probably the world’s largest free speech zone. One only got into trouble by voicing ones views to another person – a person who might be influenced and whose actions might change as a result of listening.

In a similar way, the B.C. government preserves the freedom of speech of pro-life people. So long as they are talking in a setting in which their  words will have no impact, their freedom of speech will be preserved.

Freedom of speech means little to pro-life people if they cannot speak to women who are considering having an abortion. Any such woman is amid a crisis. What she may have learned or believed in the past is all subject to review. Even if she has been against abortion in the past, her final decision is uncertain.

Every woman, prior to making a decision of such importance, deserves the opportunity to have the case for life in as clear and loving a fashion as can be done. The NDP law stops that from happening.

As a lawyer, I realize that the clever deceit of the law is irksome. Its very title proclaims that the law is about access to abortion services. The government apparently hopes to gain points as the champion of access and freedom. It is deceitful, however, to trample freedom of speech and the right to information in the name of access. Standing outside a clinic or hospital with pamphlets, speaking to women about abortion consequences and the alternatives to abortion, none of this interferes with the access to abortion. Such activities simply increase knowledge and widen a person’s options.

The head of Campaign Life Coalition in B.C. was right on the mark when he said that this action shows the NDP is truly pro-abortion and cannot honestly claim the label “pro-choice.”

Also distressing has been the lack of opposition to the law. The government saw that the opposition Liberals were divided on the issue and sought to ram the legislation through as quickly as possible to heighten the Liberal embarrassment. Two Liberal members who opposed the bill, John Van Dongen and justice critic Jeremy Dalton, followed an ancient and tawdry tradition when it came time for the vote on the bill – they ducked out of the legislature. The Bill was opposed on final reading by one Liberal member and the small Reform party caucus.

Presumably, it will not take long before the Access to Abortion Services Act is challenged in the courts. Then we will see whether, British Columbia, the judges are truer friends of free speech than the politicians.