An NDP bill that would've created a protest buffer zone around abortion clinics and health-care facilities was voted down by the Progressive Conservative majority on the last day of the fall sitting of the legislature.

An NDP bill that would've created a protest buffer zone around abortion clinics and health-care facilities was voted down by the Progressive Conservative majority on the last day of the fall sitting of the legislature.

Bill 207 (the Abortion Protest Buffer Zone Act), which was introduced by NDP house leader Nahanni Fontaine, was intended to protect Manitobans who are accessing health services from being harassed. It would've prohibited anti-abortion protests outside clinics and within 50 metres of schools. A first offence would have resulted in a $5,000 fine and/or up to six months in jail.

Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Heather Stefanson was absent from the legislature Thursday for the morning vote and did not appear virtually. Neither did Families Minister Rochelle Squires, who attended the afternoon sitting of the house.

Stefanson's campaign said she "unfortunately," had "technical difficulties" getting into the house virtually.

"We want to expand legislation to include all hospitals and health facilities to ensure they are protest-free zones," Stefanson's campaign said. 

"I would've liked to have been there for the debate," Squires told reporters. She wouldn't say how she would've voted, but said she doesn't believe protests should take place at hospitals.

"I welcome all protesters to come down here and hold peaceful protests at the legislature," Squires said, calling it the "rightful and respectful place."

Health Minister Audrey Gordon also voted against the bill. She said she wants to see "more consultation" and a bill that protects not just those seeking abortion but those seeking all kind of health care services.

"No one should face harassment, bullying or feel threatened or afraid to access any health care facility regardless of what the reasons are," Gordon told reporters outside the chamber at the legislature.

"We want to be careful, though, that we respect an individual's freedom of speech and freedom to stand on a sidewalk but certainly not to harass or prevent anyone from accessing a service," the health minister said, referring to the anti-mask, anti-vaccine passport protesters who blocked the entrance the Health Sciences Centre last month.

It was the second time the PCs voted against creating a protest buffer zone around facilities that provide abortions, Fontaine said.

"They did so in 2018 and I was hoping this time they would choose to be on the side of right," she said.

"This is a shameful day in Manitoba politics, one that women will not forget," she said, accusing the Tories of voting against women.

"I will continue to introduce this bill until we have a law that protects all Manitobans accessing abortion health care and all Manitobans who provide that service," Fontaine said.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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