Abortion clinic safe zone is like a 'black cloud has lifted,' staff say

Protester-free bubble zones around Alberta’s two standalone abortion clinics came into effect last week, a relief for staff at the private facility in Calgary.

Anti-abortion activist says Bill 9 could backfire against the governing NDP

Alberta legislation has created protester-free zones around two free-standing abortion clinics in the province. (Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

Protester-free bubble zones around Alberta's two standalone abortion clinics came into effect last week, a relief for staff at the private facility in Calgary. 

"It's like a black cloud has lifted from this clinic that we no longer have to look over our shoulder and worry about what's coming our way every day," said Celia Posyniak, executive director of the Kensington Clinic in Calgary.

The Alberta legislature passed Bill 9 on May 30, but Posyniak said protests started dying down after the draft legislation was introduced in early April.

The law prohibits anti-abortion protesters from standing within 50 metres of Posyniak's clinic and Women's Health Options in Edmonton. Its intent is to protect patients and staff from harassment. 

The maximum penalty for a first offence is $5,000 and/or six months in jail. Repeat offenders face maximum fines of $10,000 and a year in jail.

Posyniak says protests have ramped up in recent years, particularly during the twice-yearly 40 Days for Life campaigns in the spring and fall.

Posyniak wrote Health Minister Sarah Hoffman last year asking her to bring in a bubble zone law. The Kensington Clinic and Women's Health Options had injunctions against protesters but staff said they did little to stop people from returning day after day.

Bill will backfire 

Anti-abortion activists are skeptical of government and clinics who claim patients have been harassed by protesters, saying the allegations never included specific examples. 

Alissa Golob, the Calgary-based executive director and co-founder of anti-abortion group RightNow, suggests the law may end up hurting the election prospects for the governing NDP.

Similar legislation in Ontario failed to help the Liberals who lost the recent election to the Progressive Conservatives under Doug Ford, she says.

Golob predicts that abortion clinic safe zones will encourage more people to work in the anti-abortion movement.

"We see more candidates and volunteers and door knockers rising up and coming up through the woodwork because they don't want to be stifled anymore," she said.

"They're sick of their fundamental charter rights being trampled on and I think this is short-term pain for long-term gain."

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney strongly opposes abortion. Current polls suggest his party will form the government after the 2019 provincial election.

When asked if this would be an opportunity for her group, Golob said the organization is focused on getting anti-abortion candidates nominated and elected.

Kenney has said he has no plans to change the rules around abortion. But his critics say a provincial government has a great deal of power over how the procedure is funded.

Kenney and his UCP caucus refused to vote on Bill 9. He said the bill was not needed and was only introduced to distract the public from the government's economic record.