KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – A Halifax woman wants a “bubble zone” (also known as a “buffer zone” or “safe access zone”) around the Women’s Choice Clinic in the Victoria General (VG) Hospital.
Megan Boudreau decided to take action after an interaction with members of Texas-based anti-abortion group ‘40 Days for Life’ outside of the VG earlier this month.
Bubble zones can vary from place to place but always entail a certain radius around an abortion clinic, an abortion provider’s home, or another location where protest is not permitted. Legal consequences for violating the perimeter of a bubble zone range from tickets and fines to sometimes jail time.
On their website, 40 Days for Life states that their mission is to end abortion through fasting and prayer. Mainly, they hold an annual 40 day long, 24 hour a day vigil outside of an abortion clinic. In some places, they also go door to door and conduct media outreach “through carefully targeted news stories, talk shows, and editorials.”
Boudreau says she has had “a few interactions with various individuals from the group.” Aside from the very serious issue of harassing patients outside of a hospital Boudreau also wanted to confirm what, if anything, 40 Days For Life does to help the people they may successfully talk out of the procedure.
Turns out that kind of help is nonexistent.
“They haven’t done anything for women’s resources, foster care children, or anything besides being anti choice and anti abortion. Ending safe and legal abortions will only lead to unsafe abortions, but this group doesn’t seem to understand that,” Boudreau says,
While abortion rights in Canada are unlikely to face any serious threat from groups like 40 Days For Life, it’s not as obvious what effect the presence of protestors at clinics has on patients. While research is somewhat scant, some studies have attempted to determine this.
Despite the presence of many variables (such as the possibility of patients travelling elsewhere to avoid the protesters altogether), patients and providers being shouted at and forced to view graphic images report the experience as upsetting or even traumatizing.
Boudreau’s main motivation is to prevent patients from experiencing that stress or trauma during what may already be a difficult time. When asked why a bubble zone is needed around the abortion clinic in Halifax, she says “To protect the well being…of those seeking abortion. Abortions are legal and safe medical procedures that should be absolutely harassment free.”
After moving to the city at the beginning of September, Boudreau says she was “shocked to see the anti choice protesters out…so often” and wonders how “such an open, cultural, and seemingly liberal community allows these anti choice protesters to harass people like this.”
British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador all have province wide bubble zone laws. The earliest of these, the Access to Abortion Services Act of BC, was enacted in 1995 after Dr. Garson Romalis of Vancouver survived an assassination attempt.
Boudreau wonders why Halifax and the province of Nova Scotia would want to wait until something comparable takes place before protecting patients, advocates and healthcare workers from violence and harassment.
She felt she had to do something and started by posting on social media. Boudreau quickly found that most people agree with her. She created two petitions – an online version and a paper version – both of which have been mostly well received.
“I have been thanked numerous times, people have shaken my hand for standing up against these protesters, and people are generally agreeing that a Bubble Zone would be useful for the VG and it’s patients,” she says.
Those who oppose bubble zone laws decry what they consider a violation of constitutional rights such as free speech and freedom of Assembly.
However, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does in fact place limitations on those rights when other’s rights are violated more severely. In the case of bubble zone laws, the right to safely access healthcare services is deemed greater than the right to protest said healthcare services. Furthermore, groups and individuals remain free to protest outside of the bubble zone.
Since starting the petition Boudreau has been in contact with Labi Kousoulis, the Liberal MLA for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island, who has agreed to meet with Boudreau
In order to mandate a bubble zone at the Women’s Choice Clinic in Halifax new legislation will be required provincially. Though this will undoubtedly be a lengthy process, Boudreau is undeterred, saying “I won’t stop fighting for a bubble zone until it is implemented.”
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