EDMONTON – The Alberta government is changing its proposed legislation on abortion clinics to triple the potential size of no-protest zones.
NDP backbencher Deborah Drever put forward the amendment during debate Tuesday night on Health Minister Sarah Hoffman’s bill.
Drever says cabinet needs flexibility to increase the safety zones to 150 metres if the proposed minimum of 50 metres doesn’t stop harassment of women and staff at clinics.
“We know that the proposed legislation will help women in Alberta access abortion services without fear of interference, harassment, threats, or intimidation,” Drever told the house. “But in the event that the 50-metre access zone around a facility is not enough, we need to make sure that there is mechanism in place to increase that distance when it’s required.”
Drever said the 150-metre demarcation would bring Alberta in line with rules in Ontario.
Independent legislature member Derek Fildebrandt argued against it.
He said he is in favour of legislated protections for women and staff so that they are not harassed and abused outside the clinics. But he said that must be balanced with respect for freedom of speech.
“Again, you don’t have to agree with what these people are doing, but they do have a right to express themselves, however distasteful may be the way they’re going about it in this particular case.”
The Alberta Party voted in favour of what it called a reasonable amendment.
“I think it ensures that the original intent and purpose of the bill is met,” said house leader Greg Clark.
Independent Richard Starke also voted in favour.
The Opposition United Conservatives did not vote for or against the measure but instead walked out en masse prior to roll call. It was the fourth time the caucus has walked out during debate on the bill.
If the bill becomes law, Alberta will join British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador in creating so-called bubble zones around clinics.
The bill would also make it illegal for anyone to harass a doctor by phone, mail or online to convince them to not provide abortion services. Anyone breaking 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.
Opposition Leader Jason Kenney has said the legislation is unnecessary because abortion clinics already have legal tools at their disposal to deal with protests. He said he and his caucus are abstaining from what they call deliberately political and provocative legislation.
Premier Rachel Notley has said the abstinence speaks to a broader unofficial policy of not standing up for women’s rights.
This past weekend, United Conservatives voted to adopt a policy that would mandate parents be told when a minor has “invasive medical procedures.” Those on both sides of the abortion debate say that would open the door to mandatory parental consent in abortion procedures for minors.
Kenney has said he will decide what resolutions are part of the party’s election platform and says he won’t legislate on abortion.