Canada’s most populous province has introduced legislation that would limit anti-abortion protests by creating “safe access” zones around abortion clinics, homes of doctors and staff, and pharmacies and hospitals that offer abortion services.
If the bill passes, Ontario activists opposed to abortion would not be allowed to protest within at least 50 meters (164 feet) of an abortion clinic or within 150 meters (nearly 500 feet) of clinic staff homes, according to the Toronto Star.
Ontario’s eight abortion clinics would automatically receive the buffer zone, and other locations such as pharmacies, hospitals or health centers like Planned Parenthood would have to apply. All these places could also apply to extend their zones to 150 meters.
The law would also prevent protesters from harassing doctors or clinic staff at any time, whether they are at work or not, according to the Star.
Protesters who violate the law would face a $ 4,000 fine and/or six months in jail for a first offense, and up to $ 8,000 and a year in jail for further offenses.
“The idea is simple, women should have free and easy access to these clinics without somebody stopping them or subjecting them to imagery that could be very traumatic and disturbing,” Ontario’s Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, who announced the legislation, told reporters on Wednesday, according to The Globe and Mail.
Ontario is not the first place in Canada to create these safe access zones. In fact, British Columbia, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador all have similar laws, according to BBC.
But recent incidents of clashes between anti-abortion protesters and those seeking abortion services prompted Ontario’s government to look into the issue, the Star reported. Naqvi said he hopes it will help women access health services “without fear,” according to the newspaper.
“While I strongly support everyone’s fundamental right to freedom of expression, our laws must balance that right with keeping people safe,” he said.