Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia considers 'bubble zone' law to restrict anti-abortion protests

The Nova Scotia NDP has tabled a bill that would create "bubble zones" around abortion clinics and the governing Liberals say they're willing to adopt the bill, but with amendments so that any kind of protest would be restricted.

Premier Stephen McNeil says he supports the NDP bill 'in principle,' but wants to expand its scope

Anti-abortion protesters picket on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in 2014. The Nova Scotia NDP says the province needs a bubble-zone law to restrict anti-abortion protests. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The Nova Scotia NDP is calling on the government to pass a "bubble zone" law that would ban anti-abortion protests within a 50-metre radius of health-care centres, and the governing Liberals are negotiating to see it passed with some changes.

In addition to protecting clinics and hospitals, the NDP bill would also allow government to create protected zones around the homes and offices of physicians who perform abortions, and prevent anyone from trying to dissuade physicans from providing abortions.

Bubble zones, also known as safe-access zones, are already legally protected in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Under the proposed bill, it would be illegal to take or distribute photos and videos of patients and abortion providers while they're in the protected zones.

Individuals who break the proposed bubble-zone law would be fined up to $10,000 or spend up to one year in prison, and corporations that break the law would be fined up to $100,000.

MLA Claudia Chender, the NDP's spokesperson for status of women, tabled the bill.

Recent anti-choice protests show need for bill, says NDP

"Abortion is part of the health care that is guaranteed to all Canadians, and we know that people experience difficulty accessing that health care and that difficulty is experienced in different places in different ways," Chender told reporters at Province House on Tuesday.

Chender said recent anti-choice protests outside the Women's Choice Clinic — which provides medical and surgical abortions at Halifax's Victoria General Hospital — demonstrate the need for a bubble-zone law in Nova Scotia.

She also tabled a petition signed by about 140 people who support a bubble-zone law.

Megan Boudreau collected those signatures since January. She said her primary concern is the mental well-being of patients seeking reproductive health care.

"It's already a very traumatic thing to have to do, and to have to go through protesters holding anti-abortion signs on your way into a clinic just makes it that much worse," she said.

Megan Boudreau gathered about 140 signatures on a petition for a bubble-zone law to restrict anti-abortion protesters in Nova Scotia. (CBC News)

Premier Stephen McNeil said he supported the bill in principle, but wanted to broaden its scope to prohibit any kind of protest within a defined radius of clinics and hospitals.

"Our wives and daughters should have access to medical care they choose to have access to," McNeil told reporters.

The bubble-zone bill should not distinguish between different types of protests, McNeil said, which could mean that government amendments would prohibit labour picket lines outside health-care centres.

"All of us who want to access health care should not feel like we have to go through a protest line, regardless of what that is," he said.

Amended bill could pass this sitting

Government House leader Geoff MacLellan said he would work with his opposition party counterparts over the next couple of days to modify the bill.

MacLellan said that in 2020 there's "no place" for restricting abortion access, or any kind of health-care treatment, through fear and intimidation.

He said he thought an amended bill could be passed during the current sitting of the legislature.

A representative of a national anti-abortion organization told CBC News the group was preparing to "vigorously" fight the NDP bill.

David Cooke, national campaign manager for the Campaign Life Coalition, said bubble-zone laws impede the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. 

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About the Author

Taryn Grant

Reporter

Taryn Grant is a Halifax-based reporter and web writer for CBC Nova Scotia. You can email her with tips and feedback at taryn.grant@cbc.ca

With files from Michael Gorman