On March 10, less than ten days after Bill 242 was introduced in the Nova Scotia legislative assembly, The Protecting Access to Reproductive Health Care Act passed unanimously and was given Royal Assent from the Lieutenant-Governor the same day.
On March 2, Nova Scotia MLA Claudia Chender, NDP (Dartmouth South) introduced the bubble zone law that bans pro-life witnessing near abortion facilities in the province. A lawyer, Chender is the NDPs spokesperson for the Status of Women and NDP House Leader.
Campaign Life Coalition Nova Scotia coordinator Ruth Robert spoke against the bill in the Committee on Law Amendments, and said afterward s: “I’m just horrified about this. It’s just absolutely terrible.” She added that “Bubble zones have come to Nova Scotia. They did it in eight days.”
The law bans any type of pro-life witness in an “access zone” established 50 meters around an abortion centre. It prohibits pro-life demonstrators from interfering with or attempting to persuade an abortion-minded woman as they approach an abortion facility including free-standing abortion mills, hospitals, doctor’s office or pharmacy, or people who work in such facilities. Currently, abortions are committed in four hospitals in the province. Bill 242 outlaws the filming or photographing of clients or workers of such facilities. It also forbids any protesting within the 50-meter bubble zone.
The law states no person shall “request that a “patient refrain from accessing abortion services,” or a “physician or a service provider refrain from providing, or facilitating the provision of, abortion services.”
A first offense is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 or a six-month prison term, or both, with fines and prison terms doubling for a second offense. If a corporation — Campaign Life Coalition, for example — is convicted of violating the law, it faces fines of up to $25,000 for a first offense, then a possible $100,000 fine for a second offense.
During third reading, Chender told the legislative assembly, the bill “brings us in line with several other Canadian provinces and the hope is that it will open an ongoing conversation about other actions that need to be taken to ensure that women have full autonomy over their own bodies.” She admitted that “we haven’t seen any violence related to the provision of abortion services in Nova Scotia, but said that although “this bill is not a response to real or perceived threat of violence right now,” there is the potential for harassment or violence.
During committee hearings, women and abortionists said that women seeking abortions and staff feel unsafe or judged when they see protesters. Chender said, “We want to ensure that people are free of harassment.”
During the March 6 committee hearings, Robert said, “It’s just the beginning of the removal of our constitutional freedoms if we don’t stop and fight this.” She said, “I fear this bill sets a precedent that will diminish, if not completely abolish, constitutional rights of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and conscience.” Robert added that contrary to the claims of the bill’s supporters, it is “extremely troublesome because it does not protect women; it merely violates people’s constitutional rights.”
No amendments were proposed to protect the constitutional rights of pro-life protesters.
Robert explained that pro-life witnessing is peaceful and provides women with genuine choice. Noting that many women are pressured to have abortion, she said, “I am there for the women who want their children and feel they have no other recourse, to say: ‘I’m here and I can tell you from experience sometimes there are other options’.” She said she never condemns women entering abortion facilities.
Robert also said the law was unnecessary. She pointed to the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada’s own data which shows that violence from pro-life protestors is not an issue in Canada. “There has been no severe or moderate violence from pro-life individuals in over 20 years,” she said to the committee.
Melissa Brooks, co-director of the Women’s Choice Clinic at the Queen Elizabeth II hospital in Halifax, told the committee if women and abortion workers feel safe from protesters, it will increase the visibility and therefore availability of abortion in the province.
The Liberal Premier, Stephen McNeil, supported the law, saying in the legislative assembly: “On behalf of our government, on behalf of this side of the House, I am honoured to stand and support your bill.” All parties supported passage of the bill.
Nova Scotia joined Alberta, British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, and Quebec in enacting bubble zone laws.