Regina Leader-Post - - OPINION -

Some op­po­nents of the Al­berta gov­ern­ment bill to cre­ate protest-free zones around abortion clin­ics ar­gue that it im­pinges on free­dom of speech.

The sanc­tity of open ex­pres­sion in a demo­cratic so­ci­ety is not the is­sue at stake. Under the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion, pro­test­ers — both pro­choice and anti-abortion — still have the right to voice their opin­ions on this most divi­sive topic.

Bill 9, the Pro­tect­ing Choice for Women Ac­cess­ing Health Care Act, places rea­son­able lim­its on anti-abortion ac­tivists.

They are free to demon­strate, but that right shouldn’t in­clude forc­ing women and their part­ners to run a gaunt­let of in­tim­i­da­tion and ha­rass­ment when seek­ing a highly per­sonal med­i­cal pro­ce­dure that’s been le­gal in Canada for 30 years.

Scream­ing at, video­tap­ing or wav­ing signs bear­ing graphic images at women go­ing through an al­ready dif­fi­cult time wouldn’t be tol­er­ated for peo­ple seek­ing any other med­i­cal pro­ce­dure.

The draft law would bring Al­berta in line with prov­inces such as Bri­tish Columbia and On­tario where pro­test­ers are kept at least 50 me­tres away from abortion clin­ics.

United Con­ser­va­tive Party Leader Ja­son Ken­ney says buffer zones are al­ready in place, in the form of court in­junc­tions used by abortion clin­ics to keep pro­test­ers at bay. But those or­ders don’t go far enough in de­ter­ring abusive be­hav­iour be­cause le­gal con­se­quences for vi­o­la­tors usu­ally don’t amount to more than be­ing told by po­lice to move along.

Under Bill 9, the safe zone is backed up by penal­ties with bite. Law-break­ers could face a $10,000 fine and one year in jail.

No mat­ter the pol­i­tics that swirl around abortion, this bill that pro­tects cit­i­zens ac­cess­ing a le­gal med­i­cal pro­ce­dure rep­re­sents the right thing to do.

Op­po­nents who cry free­dom of speech should di­rect their anger not at the NDP gov­ern­ment but at the of­fi­cial Op­po­si­tion UCP for fail­ing to rep­re­sent them and their views in the leg­is­la­ture. For Ken­ney to say he will ab­stain from vot­ing on Bill 9 is al­ready a craven cop-out — but when his en­tire cau­cus walked out of leg­is­la­ture cham­bers last Tues­day night to avoid de­bat­ing the bill — that amounts to po­lit­i­cal cow­ardice and a dis­grace­ful dere­lic­tion of their du­ties as MLAs.

They should be ashamed.


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