Pharmacies, hospitals and doctors' offices who prescribe or dispense the abortion pill can apply to create protest-free zones under a proposed bill in Ontario, but whether they do so may depend on whether they want their locations public.

In its announcement Wednesday, the Ontario government said the province's eight abortion clinics would automatically be granted what it calls a safe access zone.

The zone, ranging between 50 and 150 metres outside clinics, would create areas where protesting abortions would be banned.

On Thursday, Attorney General Yasir Naqvi told a small audience at the offices of Planned Parenthood Ottawa the bill is not limited to abortion clinics.

"Other facilities that provide abortion services, like hospitals, health centres and pharmacies, would be able to apply to get safe access zones," said Naqvi.

Abortion pill prescribers, dispensaries, could apply

Catherine Mcnab

Catherine Macnab, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Ottawa, says some pharmacies and doctors may be hesitant to apply for a safe access zone, since that could attract the attention of abortion protesters. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Naqvi said the bill includes those establishments because they potentially prescribe or dispense the abortion pill Mifegymiso.

In August 2017, the Ontario government launched a program to cover the cost of Mifegymiso for women with a valid health card and a prescription from their doctor.

While the option to apply for a safe access zone is being commended by Planned Parenthood Ottawa, there are concerns the public nature of the list could lead to problems.

"It (applying for a safe access zone) is going to be a deterrent for providers who say 'I can apply for an access zone to protect my clinic, but by doing that, I am now going to be on a list of potential places to protest,'" said Catherine Macnab, executive director of Planned Parenthood Ottawa.

"It's a little bit contradictory, so we're really quite eager to see how that works out," said Macnab.

Private residences won't be listed

The ministry acknowledges facilities that apply for and are granted a safe access zone will have their names, locations and size of safe access zones listed in the regulation.

But safe access zones established around the residences of abortion service providers would not be listed in the regulation, in order to protect the privacy of these individuals in their homes, the ministry said in an emailed statement.

As for pharmacies, protests haven't been a problem at dispensaries of the drug, according to the Ontario Pharmacists Association. The association said in a statement they are unaware of any member-pharmacies being protested due to the availability of the abortion pill.

Should any pharmacy be the target of a picket in the future, however, applications for a safe zone would be made on a case-by-case basis, the association said in a statement.

"The OPA's top priority has always been and continues to be the safety and well-being of our patients and pharmacists across the province," the group said.

With files from Giacomo Panico