Thanks to a plea from Mayor Jim Watson, an abortion clinic in Ottawa is the center of a pro-life debate that threatens to sway the pro-life / pro-life balance.
The Morgentaler abortion clinic, located on Bank Street in Ottawa, regularly sees patients, but lately both patients and staff have vocalized complaints against the activists. Watson is calling for a law to shield anyone entering the building from the signs and chants of gathered pro-lifers.
Ironically, such a law already does exist in Ontario. Under an injunction in 1994, protesters must adhere to a strict 500-metre “bubble zone”, meaning that protesting is not technically banned, but they may not get close enough to actually interact or “sidewalk counsel” with any of the women seeking abortive services. Morgentaler was exempt from the bubble zone because it was not yet built at the time of the 1994 court injunction.
Ottawa’s mayor is taking his plea to the next step; Ontario’s Attorney General Yasir Naqvi tweeted a promise to “introduce a bill to help ensure safe access to women’s health clinics”.
What does safe access mean? It means Naqvi aims to transform the 1994 injunction into a more permanent and widespread law banning protesting under the guise of protecting women.
What spurred the sudden urgency for the Ottawa Morgentaler Clinic to suddenly feel the need to invoke the bubble zones?
An opinion piece published in the The Star cited the need for a law for three reasons: lack of police help, protestors who have grown “bolder” due to U.S. President Donald Trump’s attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, and the threat of abusive partners violating privacy laws. The op-ed piece sparked a social conversation, and Watson responded.
The proposed bill, named the Access to Abortion Services Act, will dramatically reduce the opportunity for pro-life activities to protest or march outside of the clinic. Mayor Watson himself requested that the bill extend province-wide, and not just focus on the Morgentaler Clinic.
Ontario is not the first province to create protest-free zones around clinics or hospitals that specialize in women’s healthcare and reproductive services. Others that already have legal protections in place include: British Colombia, Quebec, Newfoundland, and Labrador.
What About Freedom of Speech?
Like many aspects of the pro-life movement, this too dives deeply into the murky grey area of the law, but the threat to the fundamental freedoms is palpable. Where is the line between freedom of speech and harassment? The president of the Campaign Life Coalition, Jim Hughes, believes that line has already been crossed.
Hughes immediately released a statement saying that the bill is nothing more than an attack on the freedom of speech. Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canadians are guaranteed the freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression as well as the freedom of peaceful assembly. Unfortunately, bubble zones come dangerously close to infringing on all of those freedoms.
Much of the problem comes down to the perceived definition of “peaceful” and “harassment.” Pro-life activities that regularly protest at the Morgentaler Clinic hold signs depicting images of aborted fetuses. To the activists, these are merely factual signs they use to highlight the atrocities that take place within the walls of Morgentaler Clinic. However, to the staff and patients who frequent the clinic, those signs constitute “harassment.”
A City Divided
Protesters outside of the Morgentaler Clinic are not the only pro-lifers whose freedom of speech and religion is threatened. May 11 marked the National March for Life, and to commemorate the event, the city of Ottawa flew a decidedly pro-life flag. However, the flag was later removed at the instruction of Mayor Watson.
Watson reiterated his support of the pro-choice movement with a tweet: “My personal opinion has always been that women have the right to choose.” But again… what about the rights of the pro-life women? Does she not have the rights to speak freely and assemble? Of course, she does.
Those fighting for the rights of the unborn may be battling an uphill fight. In a June 2017 press release, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada will host the Women Deliver Conference, an event held every three years. One pillar of this conference is to strengthen the women’s reproductive health services, which includes abortion-related services.
With the freedom of speech threatened by the proposed “bubble” bill and the convocation of the conference, pro-life activists must work that much harder to spread their message.
~ 1776 Christian