Nfld. & Labrador

Protests banned within 40 metres of St. John's abortion clinic

A health clinic in St. John's has reached a deal with anti-abortion activists to prohibit protests within 40 metres of its building.
Lawyer Lynn Moore and Athena Health Centre owner Rolanda Ryan have been fighting to ban protests outside the clinic since November 2015. (Laura Howells/CBC)

A health clinic in St. John's has reached a deal with anti-abortion activists to ban protests within a 40 metres radius of its building.

The Athena Health Clinic finalized the decision at the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador on Tuesday.

"For the first time in 26 years a woman in Newfoundland can come to the clinic and have an abortion without fear of being harassed or intimidated or photographed or in any way approached by a protester," said Rolanda Ryan, owner of the Athena Health Centre.

"I consider this a huge victory for the women of the province."

Her lawyer, Lynn Moore, originally applied to ban protests within a 100 metre radius of the clinic. However, she and defence lawyer Bob Simmonds negotiated a deal before the hearing on Tuesday afternoon, reducing the distance.

"We were prepared to compromise recognizing that people have the right to freedom of expression," said Moore. 

"The important goal for us was that people be allowed to access this perfectly legal service without harassment or intimidation."

Ryan said that protesters are outside her clinic at least twice a week, sometimes even taking photographs of patients coming in and out.

Anti-abortion life protesters stand outside the Athena Health Centre on LeMarchant Road several days a week brandishing signs. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Protests will also be banned within 40 metres of the homes of clinic staff. 

Ryan said she and Moore have been working on achieving this ban since November 2015.

Defence 'satisfied' with deal

Defence lawyer Bob Simmonds said that striking this deal stops the matter from proceeding to a lengthy court trial that would require calling witnesses and dealing with sensitive issues,

He said this matter required balancing freedom of speech with a patient's right to intimidation-free health care.

Defence lawyer Bob Simmonds said he's glad this sensitive issue will not now have to drag through the courts. (Laura Howells/CBC)

"We wre able to come to a resolution that I'm sure both sides are not 100 per cent happy with, but both sides realize strikes that balance," he said.

Simmonds was representing Colette Fleming and Patrick Hanlon, two anti-abortion advocates in St. John's.

The consent order extends to all people, however, not just Fleming and Hanlon.

Seven anti-abortion advocates showed up at the Supreme Court hearing on Tuesday. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Presiding judge Raymond Whalen said he was originally concerned about applying the ban to all people, but changed his mind once he saw a similar precedent had been set in other provinces.

Still pushing for legislation

Moore said she will still be pushing for legislation prohibiting protests outside abortion clinics. 

She said that legislation holds more weight than an injunction, and allows the police to easily enforce it. 

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons said he supports the idea and will be tabling legislation in the fall.

Doctors at clinic 'so happy'

The Athena Health Clinic is one of two places in the province to offer abortions. It formerly operated as the Morgentaler clinic and has been open since 1990. 

Mari-Lynne Sinnott and Kelly Monaghan are both physicians that provide abortions, among other services. They both said they were thrilled with the result

"We're so happy," they said in unison.

Dr. Kelly Monaghan and Dr. Mari-Lynne Sinnott, two physisians who provide abortions, say they're thrilled that their patients will be able to access medical care without feeling intimidated. (Laura Howells/CBC)

"Abortion has been legal in Canada for quite some time, and this boundary really enshrines that right in a very practical way," said Monaghan.

The doctors noted that they also provide services to patients who are not receiving abortions, yet had to face protesters while going in for medical care.

"We're quite happy that from this day forward our patients are protected...and our staff and our colleagues and ourselves will feel safe going to work every day and being able to do the work we do," said Sinnot.


Laura Howells is a multi-platform reporter and radio producer. She has worked for CBC in Toronto, Hamilton, Whitehorse, and St. John's. Send story ideas to and follow her on Twitter @LauraHowellsNL.

With files from Laura Howells