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Co-authored by Laurie Eberhardt.
What does it mean to help women?
This is the question at the center of the debate surrounding a campaign by a pro-choice group to pressure the Windsor Regional Hospital into applying for a bubble zone. If the Ontario government were to approve this request, it would be illegal to do simple, peaceful activities outside the hospital.
In bubble zones, which are already in place around abortion clinics, you are not allowed to attempt to persuade a woman not to have an abortion. You’re also not allowed to inform anyone about abortion, even if your information is accurate. You’re not allowed to show any disapproval of abortion, in your speech, on a sign, or even on your t-shirt.
Pro-choice activists claim that this bubble zone is needed – for women. But how does this bubble zone help women?
Bubble zone proponents refer to them as “safe access zones”, a suggestive term implying a previous lack of safety. They might point to the very few instances over the past decades where abortion clinics have been the site of assault or harassment.
But of course, it’s always been illegal under the Criminal Code to assault or harass women, abortion providers, nurses, or anyone else. People who commit these acts should be, and have been, prosecuted. A bubble zone does nothing to increase women’s safety in this regard.
They might say it’s about the inconvenience perpetrated by protests. Even if it’s on public sidewalks, and even though the Charter protects our right to protest, it might be inconvenient or uncomfortable for patients to deal with protestors.
Pro-choice activists don’t actually mind protests outside hospitals at all – as they show up in the very place they want bubble zones, make lots of noise, and surely do not increase anyone’s comfort going into or out of the premises.
This in contrast to pro-life demonstrators like those from the 40 Days for Life campaign who don’t directly engage with anyone, but only stand praying publicly for openness to alternatives to abortion.
Let’s be very clear: bubble zones are not about protecting women’s safety or preventing public protests. They are about shielding women from one specific message. The message these abortion advocates consider so harmful is that the idea of human rights for all human beings should extend to the smallest human beings, those in the womb.
The pro-life movement has different ways of expressing this message. Some, like the 40 Days for Life volunteers that recently shared their space with abortion activists in Windsor, do so through public prayer. Others do so through pregnancy care centers, which offer much-needed support and alternative choices to women facing an unplanned pregnancy. Some do so through education about fetal development and what abortion actually does. Others do so by advocating for laws that would reflect a society that values life and protects its most vulnerable.
Whether or not you agree, the question remains – do women need to be protected from the pro-life message?
Every woman deserves to know the truth about abortion. Not just the truth about the actual procedure, but the deeper truths about the humanity and corresponding human rights of the pre-born in order to make an informed choice not just for their physical health, but for their entire well-being.
The idea that women need to be protected from this idea in order to remain autonomous is a misunderstanding of what it means to be an autonomous woman.
As women, we are relational humans often facing difficult circumstances, making complex decisions based on what we think, what we feel, what we see, what we hear – a myriad of factors. Our decisions are based on the whole world around us, and an informed choice requires information. Silencing one voice doesn’t increase our autonomy, it decreases the information and potential support available to us.
We are for informing women. Bubble zones don’t protect women, they disadvantage them by silencing information.
Laurie Eberhardt is Campaign Coordinator for Windsor 40 Days for Life, which organizes vigils as a prayerful witness to the value of life.
Tabitha Ewert is Legal Counsel for We Need a Law, a national advocacy group that mobilizes Canadians for the purpose of passing laws that protect pre-born children.