Each year for 40 days, pro-life protesters stand outside of Freeport Hospital in Kitchener with signs speaking against abortion and a person’s right to choose what is best for their own mind, body, health and family. This year was no different; however, next year will be.
The Safe Access to Abortion Services Act passed its third reading at end of October, supported by the Liberal, NDP and Progressive Conservative parties. The Act’s purpose is to protect the health, safety, dignity and privacy of people obtaining abortions, as well as healthcare providers involved in abortion care.
The Act will automatically protect free standing abortion clinics in Ontario by establishing a safe access zone of 50 metres around the property line where activities such as pressuring a person to refrain from accessing abortion services, activities that intimidate, interfere or scare a person accessing abortion services or abortion-related protests would be prohibited. Clinics can apply to increase the zone to 150 meters.
The Act will also protect health care providers involved in abortion care with an automatic safe access zone of 150 meters which moves with them at all times, preventing protesters from harassing and abusing them. Hospitals and community health centres that perform abortions, as well as pharmacies that dispense the abortion pill, will have to apply for these safe access zones.
According to Lyndsey Butcher, executive director of Sexual Health Options, Resources & Education (SHORE) Centre, protestors could face a fine up to $5,000 and six months jail time for their first offense and a $10,000 fine and one year in jail for a second offense.
The question is: will this deter protesters? Butcher is hopeful that it will.
“We’ve heard from patients and community members that driving by the 40 Days for Life protestors is very upsetting. Patients are especially angry that strangers are judging them without having any idea of what they are going through,” Butcher said.
Abortion protestors oppose the Act, saying that it infringes on their freedom of expression; however, legal experts have said the legislation places reasonable limitations on freedom of expression as it upholds the patient’s right to privacy and freedom to access health services.
We know that making abortion illegal does not prevent abortion. It does, however, make abortion less safe. I think we can assume that protesting abortion does not prevent abortion. It does, however, increase the stigma surrounding abortion and decrease the safety, security, health, privacy and dignity of a person accessing abortion services.
There are evidence-based ways to decrease abortion such as providing everyone, including children and teens, with comprehensive, age appropriate sexual health education, and there are many productive ways to support a person facing an unplanned pregnancy.
“I hope that next year the protestors will focus their efforts on building a community that supports people facing unplanned pregnancies. Advocating for affordable childcare, free and accessible birth control, and increased social assistance and minimum wage rates will have a much greater impact on reducing abortion than protesting outside of the clinic,” Butcher said.