Sudbury

Abortion safe zone law smacks of 'dictatorship' say Sudbury protesters

It will soon be illegal to protest or even discuss abortion in front of northern Ontario hospitals. A new provincial law creates safe zones to protect women seeking an abortion and hospital employees from harassment.

Exact boundaries of 'protest bubbles' around northern hospitals still to be laid out

This is how far abortion protesters may have to stay away from Health Sciences North in Sudbury under a new law creating so-called safe zones to protect women from harassment. (Erik White/CBC)

Keith McCormick has spent hundreds of hours over the last 25 years pacing on the sidewalk along Paris Street in front of the Sudbury hospital, carrying a sign.

"We should have that freedom," says the member of the local right to life association.

McCormick is appalled by the new Protecting a Woman's Right to Access Abortion Services Act, which makes it illegal to protest abortion or even discuss it within so-called safe zones.

Those can be as far away as 150 metres from clinics and hospitals, which in the case of Health Sciences North in Sudbury, would put protesters on the other side of the soccer field on the other side of Paris Street.

"It's getting to the point of dictatorship kind of a thing, you know. Tell you where you can go, where you can't go, what you can walk on," says McCormick.

"We don't harass them. I don't think we ever harassed them. We just talked to them and gave them a pamphlet and talked to them about what they're doing. That's not harassment."

The exact boundaries of the "protest bubbles" for each clinic have yet to be set, but McCormick said he and his fellow protesters do plan to continue to hold marches.

Abortion protesters regularly march in front of the hospitals in Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury, but are rarely seen in front of the North Bay hospital. (CBC)

But some argue just the fear of harassment is hard on women making a very hard decision.

"We agree that women should be able to access reproductive health and abortion services without fear for their safety and without being threatened by violence, harassment or intimidation," says Marnie Brunette, the manager of the sexual health department for the North Bay and Parry Sound Health Unit.

Brunette says she can't remember seeing protesters in front of the North Bay hospital where abortions are performed.

Protests are regularly held in front of the hospital in Sault Ste. Marie.

The pregnancy care centre in that city is part of the Canadian Association of Pregnancy Support Services.

Director Laura Lewis says her group tries to stay neutral in the abortion debate and focus on supporting women who find themselves in a difficult position.

"We strongly believe that individuals should be empowered to make well-informed, well-supported pregnancy decisions free from bullying, free from harassment and free from coercion," says Lewis