Do protestors have the “right” to harass women at abotion clinics?

20 Dec

In Canada women have been granted the right to abortion by the Supreme Court of Canada on the basis of the Charter right of security of person. Recently, a case was heard by the SCC, which will see freedom of speech and religion clash with a woman’s right to security of person.

Linda Gibbons is a notorious anti-choice protestor. She would be known as a hardened criminal if she weren’t leading a religious crusade against abortion. She has spent 8-9 years behind bars in various stints over the past 17 years because of her refusal to abide by an injunction that forbids protesting within 150m of Toronto abortion clinics. The ban is an attempt to stop harassment against women who attend these clinics.

Ms. Gibbons appeared before the SCC recently, arguing that the injunctions should be removed so that she can exercise her “rights” to freedom of speech and religion. Her lawyers also argued that using the criminal justice system to enforce the injunction was inappropriate and that the clinics should be forced to pursue Ms. Gibbons in civil court. She believes that the injunction “stifles pro-life activism.” She effectively believes that she has an inalienable right to freedom of speech and that by preventing her from protesting directly out front of the clinics where she can harass the women entering the clinics the government is breaching her rights.

What Ms. Gibbons does not seem to appreciate is that all rights have limits. Her right to freedom of speech and religion are not absolute. The SCC does not place rights in a hierarchy, putting one above the other. This means that they place limits on certain rights to avoid clashes between different rights. This will be another instance where I am certain he SCC will clarify that the right to free speech is limited, namely harassment is not free speech and thus is not protected.

I can only guess what the SCC will say, but I expect that they will stop Ms. Gibbons from harassing patients. They must understand that women accessing legal healthcare have a right to do so in peace. This judgment will be interesting because in New Brunswick, the antis have purchased the property literally next door to the Fredericton Morgentaler Clinic, giving them easy access to patients. The NB government has refused to enact an injunction to push the protestors back, and so clinic escorts are needed to help protect the women. If this SCC judgment comes down limiting the rights of protestors, like I suspect that it will, it will give pro-choice activists in other cities, including Fredericton, the ammunition by which to demand injunctions to keep protestors back.

When this judgment comes down I will write an update.

Oh, and Ms. Gibbons? Thanks to your fight, I now donate $25 per month to Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. Thank you for the motivation.

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