The Newfoundland and Labrador government has introduced a law that would keep protesters at least 50 metres away from an abortion clinic, saying it balances women’s rights with opponents’ ability to protest.
The bill tabled in the legislature Thursday also keeps protesters at least 160 metres from abortion providers’ homes, and makes it illegal to protest or to photograph or film people within those exclusion zones.
Andrew Parsons, the province’s minister of Justice and Public Safety, said during a news conference that he felt the bill — which is modeled on similar legislation from British Columbia — is both fair and constitutional.
“The intent of the legislation is to balance the rights of some to protest or express dissent with the rights of others to secure, private and respectful access to legal health services,” he said during the news conference.
Parsons said women who are accessing legal abortion services have the right not to feel intimidated.
A provincial Supreme Court decision has already established a zone around the Athena Health Centre in St. John’s, after it went to court to prevent demonstrators from occupying the space directly outside its Lemarchant Road clinic.
The proposed Access to Abortion Services Act would create protester-free zones around all facilities providing abortions around the province.
Parsons said the legislation is based on the 1996 law providing similar zones in British Columbia — legislation that has been upheld by that province’s courts.
The Newfoundland penalty for a first offence would be a fine of up to $5,000 and six months in jail. If a person is convicted more than once, the maximum penalty would be up to $10,000 and a year in jail.
Asked if he was concerned the law could lead to jailing protesters for peaceful dissent, Parsons said the legislation is warranted.
“It’s been found reasonable in other provinces. If an individual chooses to contravene the Act, just as if they choose to contravene any Act, there are repercussions that are clearly laid out if a person decides to contravene this legislation.”Report Typo/Error