TORONTO — Ontario is fast tracking legislation to create safe zones around abortion clinics with all-party support, after the bill’s introduction led to accusations of political posturing on various sides.
The legislation would create bubbles of between 50 and 150 metres around Ontario’s eight abortion clinics, in which anti-abortion protests, advising a person not to get an abortion, and intimidation or interfering with a woman’s ability to access the services will be banned.
All parties agreed Monday to shortened times for debate and committee hearings with an eye to passing the bill next Wednesday, Oct. 25.
The bill’s introduction earlier this month inflamed political tensions between the governing Liberals and the Opposition Progressive Conservatives.
PC Leader Patrick Brown published a video moments before the Liberals’ announcement saying he is pro-choice and his party would be supporting the bill. He accused the Liberals of trying to re-open debates about “divisive social issues.”
The Liberals shot back that only within Brown’s party was the issue divisive _ though a few members on the Liberal back benches have “green light” endorsements from anti-abortion group Campaign Life Coalition as well.
The Progressive Conservatives brought forward a motion the next day to pass the bill immediately, with no debate or committee hearings, and the Liberals declined.
In response, the Tories accused the Liberals of playing wedge politics with the issue, suggesting the Liberals had hoped that drawing it out would expose divisions within the PC party.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Monday that all the politicking around this issue is “distasteful.”
“It’s disappointing that the Wynne Liberals decided to try to get a gotcha moment with the Conservatives and then they did their manoeuvring,” she said. “I don’t think it’s proper and appropriate to be using women’s health and women’s rights as a political football to gain points on other parties.”
Lisa MacLeod, the Progressive Conservative who proposed the immediate passage, said the new sped-up timeline agreed to Monday came as a result of reaction to the Liberals not supporting her motion.
“It was seen for what it was, which was a political move by the government not to support it and I think there was a considerable backlash in (Ottawa),” she said.
The Liberal government proposed the legislation after reports of intimidation, harassment and assault toward women who were trying to access abortion and other reproductive services at a clinic in that city.
Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said it was always the Liberals’ intention to pass the legislation as quickly as possible.
“As soon as I got an indication from the opposition parties that they are supportive of passing this bill in an expedited timeline, we approached them,” he said.
Going through a proper legislative process _ even an expedited one _ versus immediate passage, helps to ensure the bill is on stronger legal ground, Naqvi said.
“Legislation like this could be challenged on constitutional grounds,” he said. “As the attorney general I do not want to take the risk of a possibility this bill may be deemed as unconstitutional.”
The ban will also automatically apply to 150 metres around the homes of abortion staff and health professionals who provide the services. Anyone who violates the safe zones would face up to $5,000 in fines and six months in jail for a first offence. For a second or subsequent offence, fines range from $1,000 to $10,000 and up to a year in jail.
It would not come into force as soon as it is passed, however, as the zones need to be set through regulations, Naqvi said.