Newfoundland to ban free speech outside abortion facilities

On Nov. 17, Newfoundland and Labrador Justice and Public Safety Minister Andrew Parsons, introduced a bill that would keep pro-life protesters at least 50 meters away from an abortion facility and 160 meters from an abortionist’s home. Bill 43, An Act to Create Safe Access Zones Around Facilities and Homes of Doctors and Service Providers Providing or Facilitating Abortion Services, would also make it illegal to photograph or film people within those exclusion zones.

In his press conference announcing Bill 43, Parsons said the legislation is modeled on similar legislation in British Columbia, and claimed it was necessary to “balance the rights of some to protest or express dissent with the rights of others to secure, private and respectful access to legal health services.” He said “Women in our province are entitled to health care, including abortion, which is a legal medical service,” and that “those who use health care services and provide services should be treated with dignity, courtesy and respect, and should not feel intimidated.”

Last summer, the provincial Supreme Court established a bubble zone against protests around the Athena Health Centre, which does abortions in St. John’s.

Bill 43, which goes by the short title of the Access to Abortion Services Act, would make it illegal not only to protest against abortion with the bubble zone area, but to attempt “to advise or persuade, a person to refrain from accessing abortion services” or attempt “to inform a person concerning issues related to abortion services.” The penalty for a first offense would be a fine of up to $5,000 and six months in jail, with subsequent convictions leading to a maximum penalty of $10,000 and a year in jail.

Asked if he was concerned the new law would lead to punishing peaceful protesters, Parsons said, “if an individual chooses to contravene the Act, just as if they choose to contravene any Act, there are repercussions that are clearly laid out if a person decides to contravene this legislation.”

Asked about the free speech concerns raised by pro-life activists, Parsons replied, “I got to be honest, I don’t really care. That’s the best way I can put it. This is important. Abortion is a legal service. It’s a necessary. It’s a medical service.”

Colette Fleming, a local pro-lifer who has been witnessing at local abortuaries for 25 years, called Bill 43 “just ludicrous” because she says it totally unnecessary. “They claim we were harassing clients, stopping them from going into the clinic, standing outside the doctors’ homes,” Fleming told LifeSiteNews. “We didn’t do any of those things. We don’t know where the doctors live and we don’t want to know.” She said it was outrageous that no one is speaking up for the unborn victims of abortion, of which she says there an estimated 1500 each year in the province.

Fleming is undeterred by the proposed limits. She vowed to stand 50 meters from abortion facilities – “we want to be close enough so they can see us” – presenting information to change the minds of women seeking abortions and “praying for the children.”

MHA Gerry Rogers (St. John’s Centre), the NDP critic of Child, Youth and Family Services as well as Justice and Public Safety, said his party will introduce amendments to broaden the scope of Bill 43 to shield not only doctor’s homes, but all staff’s residences. He claimed that pro-lifers would harass nurses if they are barred from picketing abortionist’s homes.

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