MLAs share emotional stories as Nova Scotia considers abortion bubble zones
MLAs from all parties voiced their support for a bill that would restrict anti-abortion protests
A bill aimed at restricting anti-abortion protests in Nova Scotia received wide support in the legislature Wednesday, with many members sharing heartfelt speeches in favour of a woman's right to access reproductive health care, free from harassment or intimidation.
"In my own life, this is a really resonant issue," said NDP MLA Claudia Chender, who tabled the bill Tuesday.
During debate in the House of Assembly, Chender shared the story of her grandmother, who escaped the Holocaust at age 16, losing most of her family in the process. After the war, Chender said her grandmother became pregnant and opted for an abortion, feeling "emotionally incapable" of mothering a child because of her recent trauma.
Chender's family's connection to abortion continued when her mother joined the board of a former Planned Parenthood clinic, and again when her sister "availed herself of the services" of that same clinic.
Chender said she shared the stories because she suspected they were common, underscoring the importance of her party's bill.
"If this is my situation, then how many other women, how many other men, how many other people in Nova Scotia also, maybe even unknowingly, share this need and legacy around reproductive health?" she said.
What bubble zones do
An Act to Protect Access to Reproductive Health Care passed second reading Wednesday after almost 40 minutes of debate, with members from each party standing to voice their support.
The proposed law would create bubble zones, also known as safe-access zones, around health-care facilities that provide abortion services. Anti-abortion protests and taking photos and videos of patients or workers would be prohibited within a 50-metre radius.
The bill would also allow the province to set bubble zones around the homes and offices of abortion-service providers.
Independent MLA Alana Paon said the bill hit "very close to home" for her.
"I don't really talk about these things in public," she said in the House.
"I was 18 years old and let's just say someone else made a choice for me and I didn't choose to be pregnant on my own."
Paon said she feels personally conflicted about abortion because of her Catholic faith, but she said she believes every woman has a right to choose.
"It was my choice to have my son, based on my faith and my beliefs, but for someone else that may be very different."
She said the bubble-zone law was a "no-brainer."
Kelly Regan, the Liberal minister for the status of women, echoed Chender in saying she suspected everyone in the House knew someone who had had an abortion.
"So let me be clear," Regan said. "No Nova Scotians undergoing a procedure like this should have to deal with strangers commenting on their health on the way into that operation."
"It's a principle of this government that women should have agency over their own bodies," said Regan.
Under the current Liberal majority, opposition bills can only move forward with government support, which few receive. After the NDP bill was introduced on Tuesday, Premier Stephen McNeil said he supported it "in principle," but wanted to expand the bill's scope before moving it forward.
However, no amendments were introduced before the bill's second reading on Wednesday. Government House leader Geoff MacLellan said that was because the government decided it could instead deal with amendments "down the road."
"Abortion is an important conversation to settle for Nova Scotians and for all Canadians, so for us, we were certainly fine with this legislation as is and did not want to hold it up," MacLellan said in an interview.
Chender said she was "very pleased" with the government's support.
"To me this is not a contentious piece of legislation," she said. "It's a piece of legislation that makes sense that it should and could go forward hopefully with all-party support. Because a woman's right to choose should not be, in 2020, a political issue."
The bill is now set to move to the law amendments committee, where the public will be invited to share feedback.
The Campaign Life Coalition, a national anti-abortion organization, penned an open letter to the provincial justice minister and health minister in December expressing opposition to bubble-zone laws.
The group has continued to campaign against bubble zones, which it says impedes the rights to free expression and peaceful assembly — a claim that Progressive Conservative MLA Karla MacFarlane disputed at Province House during Wednesday's debate.
MacFarlane said the bubble-zone bill "does not prohibit Nova Scotians from protesting or expressing their opinions."
"They have the right to protest. But women also have the right to access ... legal medical services. Health professionals have the right to go to their places of work and to their homes free from intimidation or harassment."
With files from Michael Gorman