The bill would have banned pro-lifers from standing within 50 meters of hospitals that commit abortions, free-standing abortion facilities, or schools. The bill’s scope would have been far-reaching, prohibiting pro-lifers from advising women on abortion services by oral, written, or graphic means. First-time violations would have been punishable with up to a $5,000 fine and/or six months’ imprisonment. Identical legislation was previously introduced and voted down in 2018.
Maria Slykerman, president of Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) Manitoba, celebrated the news, saying “We congratulate Progressive Conservative MLAs for defeating this bill by a vote of 30 to 20 that specifically targeted pro-life speech. Censorious ‘bubble zone’ legislation has no place in a free and democratic society. By voting to shut down this anti-free speech and pro-abortion bill, the Manitoba legislature has upheld fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to free speech and expression, and the right to peaceful assembly.”
In a statement, national pro-life group We Need a Law’s legal counsel Tabitha Ewert pointed out the discriminatory nature of buffer zone laws. “One of the obvious issues with this buffer zone law is how one-sided it is,” she said. “The bill prohibits showing disapproval of abortion, but not approval of it. This means two women could stand side by side, one with a sign that says ‘I don’t regret my abortion’ and the other with a sign that says ‘I regret my abortion,’ and only the latter is illegal, despite both being a statement of personal experience.” Furthermore, Ewert pointed out, buffer zone legislation is unnecessary because Canadian law already prohibits intimidation or harassment of women, regardless of location.
“Every woman deserves to have access to information about abortion,” added Ewert. “Not just information an abortion clinic might give her about the actual procedure, but information about the humanity of the pre-born child and the availability of support should she wish to parent.”
The bill’s sponsor, Nahanni Fontaine, vowed to reintroduce the bill in the future, decrying the failure of the bill as a “shameful day in Manitoba politics, one that women will not soon forget.”
Abortion advocates frequently seek the erection of buffer zones around abortion facilities to prevent pro-lifers from peacefully engaging abortion-minded women with offers of assistance or prayer. This is because when pro-lifers help abortion-minded women to consider other options, it can empower them to choose life and hope rather than death and despair — which causes the abortion facility to lose profit.
In America, many buffer zone laws have not survived legal challenges given their violation of pro-lifers’ Constitutional rights to free speech and public assembly. But buffer zone legislation has been far more successful in Canada. At present, six provinces already have buffer zones in place, including Ontario, British Columbia, Newfoundland/Labrador, Quebec, Alberta, and Nova Scotia. This past spring, buffer zone legislation in Saskatchewan was voted down, but just last week government officials announced plans to revive it as part of legislation banning COVID-related protests within a certain distance of public health care facilities.
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