Ontario Liberals agree to fast-track bill creating safe zones around abortion clinics

The Ontario Liberals have made "a tentative agreement" to fast-track their own legislation to create harassment-free bubble zones around abortion clinics, one week after rejecting a motion by the PCs to pass the bill immediately.

Move comes 1 week after the party rejected a motion to pass the bill immediately

Ontario's Attorney General, Yasir Naqvi, announced legislation to create protest-free safe zones around abortion clinics last week. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

The Ontario Liberals have have agreed to fast-track their own legislation to create harassment-free bubble zones around abortion clinics, one week after rejecting the move.

The three parties have reached a "tentative agreement " on the schedule for passing the bill, said Kyle Richardson, press secretary for Liberal House Leader Yasir Naqvi, in an email Friday

"A motion for unanimous consent ... will be moved on Monday Oct. 16 with a scheduling agreement to move through second reading, committee and third reading on an accelerated timeline," the email reads. 

The Liberals introduced the legislation last Wednesday. Bill 163, the Protecting a Woman's Right to Access Abortion Services Act, would prohibit people from showing anti-abortion signs, handing out literature, or trying to dissuade women from having an abortion within up to 150 metres of a clinic. 

But the disagreement that ensued had all sides in the Legislature accusing each other of playing politics with the abortion issue.

The PCs put forward a motion last Thursday to pass the bill immediately, but the Liberals refused.

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said at that time he wanted "healthcare professionals, women's groups and other advocates ... to review the to review the bill and provide input."

But the opposition accused Naqvi of hypocrisy, because when he unveiled the bill, he said the government had already consulted widely during its drafting. 

"Let's call it what it is, it's wedge politics," Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod told reporters on Oct. 5.

Some in MacLeod's party believe the Liberals wanted to draw out the process in a bid to highlight the social conservative elements in the PCs, and use it to their advantage in the months leading up to the provincial election in June.

For their part, the Liberals accused the PCs of wanting to rush the bill through the Legislature to avoid any scrutiny of anti-abortion sentiments in their ranks. 

MacLeod had proposed the motion to pass the bill in one swift step.

"If they really wanted to put women's safety first, then they would have either done this when the issue started arising over a year ago or they would have accepted my unanimous consent request and passed the motion today," she said.

The Liberals have often raised questions about PC leader Patrick Brown's views on abortion. In 2012, when he was a Conservative MP, Brown voted in favour of a parliamentary motion to study the Criminal Code definition of when a fetus becomes a human being.

"You should be asking yourself, 'Why is it that the opposition, the Conservatives, want to push this through quickly?'" said the Minister for the Status of Women, Indira Naidoo-Harris, last week.

"I think that the leader of the opposition actually has been back and forth on this issue himself with his own track record. Maybe he doesn't want some of those voices in committee to be heard." 

With files from Mike Crawley