New law allows for larger safe zone for abortion providers, but LHSC says they don't need it

Officials at London Health Sciences Centre say they have no plans to use a new Ontario law that can establish a 150-metre safe zone to keep protesters away from women who seek abortion services.

Hospital says anti-abortion protesters haven't restricted access to abortion services

Victoria Hospital is London's only provider of abortion services. A hospital spokesperson said the facility doesn't see the need to apply for an expanded safe zone, which a new Ontario law allows for. (Dave Chidley)

Officials at London Health Sciences Centre say they have no plans to make use of a new Ontario law that can establish a 150-metre safe zone around facilities that provide abortions as a way to keep protesters from harassing women seeking service.

The Safe Access to Abortion Services Act received royal assent in October and establishes a ban on protesting within a 50-metre radius of any abortion clinic. 

Other facilities that provide abortions — including hospitals, health centres and pharmacies — can apply for a safe zone of up to 150 metres. 

Activities prohibited in the safe zone include: 

  • Advising anyone to refrain from accessing abortion services. 
  • Abortion-related protests. 
  • Physically interfering with or intimating people accessing abortion services 
  • Making recordings of patients or providers. 

A spokesperson for LHSC said they have no plans to apply for the expanded safe zone at Victoria Hospital, saying anti-abortion protesters who sometimes gather at the corner of Wellington Street and Commissioners Road don't restrict access to service.

Victoria Hospital, part of the LHSC network, is London's only provider of abortion services.

The spokesperson was willing to speak with CBC News about the new law, but would not have their name used for attribution, citing hospital policy about ensuring staff safety regarding abortion services.

The LHSC spokesperson said the hospital's campus is large enough that protesters who stay off the property aren't able to restrict access to service.

The spokesperson also said the protesters have a "respectful relationship" with hospital security. She said the hospital hasn't had problems with anti-abortion groups blocking entrances or harassing staff or patients.

The spokesperson also said any protests on hospital property would already be illegal under existing laws and that for now, hospital staff don't feel it necessary to apply for an expanded safe zone. 

Local anti-abortion group responds

Mike Hale of the anti-abortion group London Area Right to Life said he's opposed to the new law, which he says is unnecessary. 

Hale said his group's anti-abortion "prayer vigils" — he doesn't call them protests — aren't illegal because they happen just off LHSC property at the Wellington and Commissioners intersection.  

"We're not on hospital property at all," he said. "It's hundreds of metres away from any of the buildings."

He said his group may have to move to the west side of Wellington Street to comply with new law's 50-metre safe zone.

"It wouldn't make much difference," he said. "It's on one side of the road or another."

Hale said he's happy to work with police about where his group can gather in a way that complies with the new law. 

Under the new law, abortion service providers will also have a 150-metre safe zone around their homes. It also includes a general anti-harassment provision the protects clinic staff and abortion providers anywhere in Ontario. 

Anyone violating the new rules will be risking a hefty fine of up to $5,000 and/or up to six months in prison for a first-time offence.

About the Author

Andrew Lupton

Reporter

Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.

With files from CBC's Gary Ennett