Ontario’s Safe Access to Abortion Services Act Passes Second Reading

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Ontario’s Bill 163, Protecting a Woman’s Right to Access Abortion Services Act, passed second reading on Tuesday. The Act was approved by MPPs from all three major parties with only Jack MacLaren (Carleton-Mississippi Mills), a former Progressive Conservative and current member of the Trillium Party of Ontario, voting against it.

Two weeks ago, the Liberal government rejected Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod’s request for the unanimous consent of MPPs from all parties to pass the Liberal bill on the spot. Critics saw this as a way for the Liberals to keep the abortion issue in the news to expose divisions within the Progressive Conservative party. However, on Monday, the parties agreed to fast-track the legislation. Public hearings on the proposed legislation began on Thursday and a third reading vote could happen as early as October 25.

The purpose of Bill 163 is to protect access to abortion services by protecting the safety, security, health and privacy of those seeking to access these services and of abortion service providers. The legislation designates “safe-access zones” where anti-abortion activities and harassment of people accessing or providing abortion services would be prohibited.

Under Bill 163, safe-access zones of 50 meters, and up to 150 meters, would be established around eight abortion clinics throughout Ontario. Clinic staff would also have safe zones around their homes. In addition, the proposed legislation would protect all providers of abortion services from harassment related to their work wherever they are. Those who do not comply with the legislation will face fines up to $5,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 6 months for their first offence. For subsequent offences, fines could be between $1,000 to $10,0000 and offenders may even face imprisonment of up to 12 months.

According to Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, the legislation seeks to provide women with free and easy access to these clinics without interference and harassment. Bill 163 comes in the wake of increasing intimidation and harassment of women outside of abortion clinics, especially the Morgentaler Clinic in Ottawa.

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.