Alberta has introduced legislation to keep protesters at least 50 metres away from abortion clinics, and to make it illegal for demonstrators to video, record audio or take pictures of people entering or leaving the building.
The province would also, if asked, designate similar no-go zones around homes and offices of doctors and other staff who provide abortions.
“All Albertans should feel safe when accessing their health-care services. That includes abortion services, which have been legal in this country for almost 50 years,” Health Minister Sarah Hoffman told the house after tabling the legislation Thursday.
“This new act will ensure women in Alberta can exercise this choice without fear of interference, bullying, threats or intimidation.”
LISTEN: Health Minister Sarah Hoffman speaks with Angela Kokott on Calgary Today
Under the proposed legislation, it would also be illegal for anyone to harass a doctor by phone, mail or online to convince them to not provide abortion services.
Anyone who breaks the law faces fines up to $10,000 or a year in jail. Corporations that violate the rules can be fined up to $100,000.
If the bill passes, Alberta will join British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador in creating so-called bubble zones around clinics.
Alberta has two clinics — one in Edmonton and one in Calgary — that perform 75 per cent of the abortions in the province. The latest numbers from the government say 14,268 procedures were performed in 2016.
The number of abortions has been constant — above 14,000 but below 15,000 a year — since 2010.
Both clinics have court injunctions in place to keep protesters across the street.
Marie-Claire Bissonnette, with the Campaign Life Coalition, said the legislation is unnecessary because of the existing buffer zones.
“It’s creating a law specifically targeted to people who don’t agree with abortion,” said Bissonnette.
“If these people are harassing women, there are already laws in place to stop that and they should be tried according to those laws. But it seems it’s being brought forward with a lack of evidence that this is actually happening.”
But Celia Posyniak of Calgary’s Kensington Clinic has said the court injunctions have become effectively meaningless. She said protesters are ignoring the buffer zone as they harass, video, and abuse staff and patients entering the clinic.
Hoffman has said the number of protesters outside the Kensington clinic has doubled in the last year and there are now demonstrators outside the Women’s Health Options Centre in Edmonton four or five times a week.
Posyniak called the bill “a really good start.”
“I’m very pleased that there are penalties there,” she said. “I’m also very pleased that they’ve included phone and email harassment because that is a problem.”
She also liked the proposed ban on videos.
“People worry about that a lot. We see a lot of protesters out here holding cameras. I’m not sure what they do with those photographs and that’s worrisome.”
But Stephanie Fennelly, with the Wilberforce Project, said there is “no issue with harassment or intimidation outside of abortion clinics, and Minister Hoffman suggesting otherwise is simply false.
“We don’t ban animal rights demonstrators from gathering on public property outside of the Stampede, so why should we ban pro-lifers from gathering on public property outside of a clinic?”
Both the Alberta Party and Liberal caucuses have said they support such legislation in principle because women have the right to privacy and respect when using a medically legal service.
The Opposition United Conservatives have said they will study the bill and talk to constituents before taking a position on it. Leader Jason Kenney has been clear in the past that while he is opposed personally to abortion, any government he leads would not legislate the issue.