UCP Leader Jason Kenney will abstain from vote on abortion clinic safe zone law
'I will be abstaining from the vote as well as most of our caucus,' Kenney says
United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney says he will not vote on the government's bill to create 50-metre, no-protest zones around Alberta's two standalone abortion clinics.
"I will be abstaining from the vote as well as most of our caucus," he told reporters at the Alberta legislature Monday.
Athough Kenney, an observant Roman Catholic, has expressed his opposition to abortion in the past, he said that isn't the reason for his decision.
- Bill to set 50-metre, no-protester zone around Alberta abortion clinics
- Anti-abortion activist says 'safe zones' around clinics would violate free speech rights
Instead, Kenney will abstain because he believes Bill 9 is an attempt by the governing NDP to distract from its economic record, he said.
"We don't believe the NDP is sincere in this," Kenney said. "We believe it's a transparent distraction tactic and we're not going to play that game."
Bill 9, the Protecting Choice for Women Accessing Health Care Act, would prevent anti-abortion protesters from standing within 50 metres of the Kensington Clinic in Calgary and Women's Health Options in Edmonton.
The bill also prevents protesters from taking audio, video or photographs of anyone entering or exiting the clinics and contains provisions to prevent people from harassing physicians and staff.
Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said last week her officials started working on the bill last summer after receiving a request from the Kensington Clinic to deal with an escalation in protests.
Hoffman said Kenney's decision to abstain from voting on Bill 9 is disappointing, but not surprising.
"I have to say that these women deserve to have peace walking to their doctor's appointments and that's why we're bringing this legislation forward," she said.
Law not needed, Kenney said
The bill would pass even if every member of the UCP caucus abstained, but Hoffman says refusing to vote means refusing to stand with women.
"I know (Kenney's) voting record on this in the past, and his statements in the past, I get that he wants to keep that record, in his mind, perfect but it is far from perfect," she said. "Women deserve to have peace in accessing health care services."
Under the bill, protesters who repeatedly violate a "safe zone" could face a maximum $10,000 fine under the proposed legislation introduced Thursday.
Both clinics have had injunctions in place for about 15 years. But staff say they are ineffective as they carry no penalty unless people refuse to leave.
Kenney said there is no need for the law saying the clinics could go back to court to apply for a bigger zone.
"The bubble zone has already been in place for 20 years and that's why presumably until the last week the NDP has never proposed legislation where court orders have already been effected," he said.