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Sask. government needs time to review NDP’s ‘bubble zone’ abortion legislation: justice minister

If passed, the NDP's bill would prohibit harassment and intimidation of patients up to 150 metres from the edge of a property that provides abortion services. Files / Global News

Saskatchewan’s justice minister said his government needs time to review recently proposed legislation that would create a bubble-zone around abortion clinics in the province, where protesters would be prohibited.

NDP MLA Jennifer Bowes introduced Bill 605(1), An Act to Provide Safe Access to Abortion Services, on Wednesday.

Read more: O’Toole pressed on ‘pro-choice’ stance as MP readies bill to limit abortion access

If passed, the law would prohibit “the harassment and intimidation of patients seeking reproductive healthcare” up to 150 metres from the edge of the property of the location offering abortion services.

On Thursday, Justice Minister Gord Wyant told the legislative assembly that the government would need time to review the proposed bill and ensure it is “charter-compliant.”

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“The government supports the tenets of the Canada Health Act and certainly women have the right to access reproductive services, abortion services without fear of intimidation or harassment,” Wyant said.

Wyant added he wants the opportunity to look at other provincial governments, such as Ontario, that have passed similar legislation.

“It’s incumbent on me as the attorney general to make sure the legislation meets the purposes for which it’s intended and so I want to have a chance to look at it. Generally, we believe that people should have the right, women should have the right to access those services without fear of intimidation.”

In Saskatchewan, surgical abortions are offered in Regina and Saskatoon.

Mifegymiso (mifepristone and misoprostol) commonly referred to as the “abortion pill,” can be offered by physicians at clinics across the province.

The act would also bring in new protections for workers and providers of the clinics to ensure that no one can “repeatedly harass or intimidate” employees in-person, by phone or online dissuading them from doing their job.

Click to play video: 'N.S. woman leads charge for hospital ‘bubble zones’ to protect those seeking abortion services' N.S. woman leads charge for hospital ‘bubble zones’ to protect those seeking abortion services
N.S. woman leads charge for hospital ‘bubble zones’ to protect those seeking abortion services – Dec 20, 2019

The act states that first offences could result in a fine of $5,000 or imprisonment for a term not more than six months. Repeat offenders could be fined at least $1,000 and up to $10,000, or face jail time of a year or less.

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The Saskatchewan NDP’s proposed legislation mirrors legislation that already exists in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.

Wyant said of the incidents he is aware of where harassment has occurred, the police have been quick to respond. He encourages anyone facing harassment to contact the police.

Wyant added that there’s a fine line between protest and intimidation.

“That’s really kind of in the eyes of the beholder. So that’s why we really want to look at what other provinces have done, how they’ve defined that and have a look at it with our folks in the Ministry of Justice to make sure it fulfills the public policy concerns that have been expressed.

“Certainly a fine line, people in this country have a right to protest. But people also have the right to ensure that they get access to the services free of that intimidation and where that crosses the line I think is where the difficulty rises.”

Wyant said the government wants to make sure those interests are properly balanced in any legislation that is brought forward.

Since she proposed it on Wednesday, Bowes said there’s been a positive response from women and men.

“They’re really happy to see it, thanking us for putting this bill forward,” Bowes said Thursday.

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Bowes said women have a right to access their “constitutionally protected right” to health care without facing harassment.

“By harassment, I mean attempts to dissuade them from accessing this medical service, attempt to express disapproval, to physically interfere with them. There are many examples, but in this specific context, I do believe that this is a form of harassment and not legitimate protest.”

Read more: Saskatchewan NDP calls for midwife post-secondary education program

Saskatoon Sexual Health Centre is welcoming the proposed legislation.

“What we’re really excited to see is that this legislation ensures that patients, providers and staff who are both entering and leaving medical facilities can do so in a way that is safe and private and also that they’re not encountering any kind of obstruction or harassment,” said executive director Heather Hale.

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