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Canada Ontario passes bill to create protest-free zones around abortion clinics

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi says the exact zones have to be set out in regulations, but he predicts that will happen sooner rather than later.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

It will soon be illegal to protest outside and near abortion clinics in Ontario.

The legislature passed a bill Wednesday to create zones around the eight clinics in the province of between 50 and 150 metres 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.

The ban will also automatically apply to 150 metres around the homes of abortion staff and health professionals who provide the services.

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Attorney General Yasir Naqvi cheered that all three parties worked together to pass the legislation on a sped-up timeline.

"We as legislators have passed a very important piece of legislation ensuring that women have safe access to health-care services like reproductive health and abortion services," he said. "We worked on this bill on a very short time frame to ensure that we protect women."

The bill's timing had inflamed political tensions between the governing Liberals and the Opposition Progressive Conservatives. The Tories had proposed passing the bill immediately after it was introduced, with no debate or committee hearings, and the Liberals declined, which led the PCs to accuse the government of trying to draw it out, hoping it would expose divisions within the PC party.

Opposition Leader Patrick Brown noted his party unanimously voted for the bill's passage Wednesday, and said it did not cause any divisions within his caucus.

Several of his caucus members – including those who have espoused socially conservative views – however, were absent for the vote. Two were away for health reasons, Brown said, though they are not the members who hold those views.

Brown did not directly address the absence of the social conservative members, but noted many Liberals were away as well. That included two of three Liberals who have been praised by anti-abortion group Campaign Life Coalition for their views.

The lone politician to vote against the bill was Jack MacLaren, a former Progressive Conservative who now sits as an independent after joining the Trillium Party, which the legislature does not recognize as an official party.

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Campaign Life Coalition released a statement threatening a legal challenge to the bill "if necessary," saying it attacks freedom of speech.

Naqvi has previously said that going through a proper legislative process – even an expedited one – versus immediate passage helps to ensure the bill can withstand a constitutional challenge.

No changes were made to the bill between its introduction and its passage.

The law will not come into force immediately, however, as the zones need to be set through regulations, Naqvi said.

There will be an application process for other health-care providers or pharmacists, as some Ontario pharmacies recently started offering the abortion pill, Mifegymiso.

Anyone who violates the safe zones will face up to $5,000 in fines and six months in jail for a first offence and fines of $1,000 to $10,000 and up to a year in jail for a second or subsequent offence.

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