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Newfoundland pro-lifers protest outside the provincial legislature in September 2013. Patrick Craine / LifeSiteNews
Steve Weatherbe

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Newfoundland announces plan to ban pro-life witnessing outside abortion centers

Steve Weatherbe

ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland, June 17, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – Claiming that staff and customers at the St. John’s private abortion facility are being harassed and “intimidated” by a handful of pro-lifers, provincial Justice Minister Andrew Parsons has promised to pass a buffer zone law like British Columbia’s banning free speech and assembly near abortion clinics.

“Free speech is one thing, but harassing someone that's using a medical facility is a whole different situation,” Parsons told CBC News. “No one should be intimidated when accessing medical services in this province, and that includes abortion.”

But Colette Fleming, who has been praying outside the private Athena Health Centre and its predecessors for 25 years, denies the allegations. “We don’t harass anyone,” she told LifeSiteNews. “We don’t stop anyone, we don’t speak to anyone unless they approach us. We just have our beautiful signs.” Those signs bear messaging such as “Love them both” above an image of a mother with her baby, “Abortion stops a beating heart” over a picture of a sleeping baby, and “Me. Still Me” below pictures of an unborn baby and a newborn.

Despite Parsons’ inflammatory language, the worst that the CBC could come up with to justify the charge of intimidation was Athena Health Clinic owner Rolanda Ryans’s claim that “the protesters are in front of the St. John's clinic at least two days a week, sometimes taking photographs of people going in and out.”

The picture taking, Ryan told the CBC, “is a huge, huge concern for us. My patients are scared. ... There are people who are really concerned for their own safety.”

And Peg Norman, past manager of the clinic under previous ownership, is quoted by the CBC as saying, “For a woman who's already gone through the difficult process of making that decision to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, to then have to face judgement of the self-righteous that are standing out on the sidewalk is not necessary.” But if Norman told the CBC anything else to justify the charge of harassment, they did not report it.

Fleming said that in the past two weeks one of the three regular pro-lifers outside the clinic did buy a mini-video camera—“on the advice of the police. They told us to get it to protect ourselves, so that when people in the clinic call the police to complain about us, we will be able to prove them false. But we are not taking pictures of anyone going into the clinic. We are taking pictures of ourselves.”

What is more, said Fleming, clients must enter the clinic from the rear of the building while the pro-lifers stand on the sidewalk in front of it. “We don’t see who goes into it.”

Fleming believes any genuine harassment would draw at least a charge of disturbing the peace. But in 25 years, no charges have ever been laid. And the police have been called only in the last two years—because of unruly pro-abortion protesters, she claimed.

“You have to think they must be having some impact,” said Margaret Hynes, head of Campaign Life Coalition Newfoundland, “because they are complaining so much at the facility.” Hynes said about 800 abortions were performed each year in the province, both at the clinic and a St. John’s hospital, “and now there will probably be more, which is shame since our population is shrinking and the cost of health care is taking up half the budget.”

Parsons has not specified how big the buffer zone would be, though the opposition New Democrats passed a resolution at their last annual meeting calling for 50 metre zones.

British Columbia is the only province in Canada with legislated buffer zones automatically placed 10 metres from the property line around all abortion doctors’ offices. The provincial cabinet can place 50-metre zones around actual abortion facilities and has done so in Vancouver. Judges have granted injunctions creating buffer zones around specific clinics in Quebec and Ontario.

“If they put up a buffer zone, we don’t know what we’ll do,” admitted Mrs. Fleming. “But we will carry on somehow in the cause of life.” 

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