Court upholds limits on abortion protests

Fri Sep 5, 2008 1:15pm EDT
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - A Canadian appeals court on Thursday upheld a provincial "bubble zone" law that limited protests around abortion clinics in British Columbia.

The three-judge panel rejected the claims of anti-abortion activists and civil libertarians that the law violated rights of free expression by stopping protesters from talking to women entering the clinics.

"The objective of the act justifies the limited infringement of freedom of expression in the circumstances," British Columbia Court of Appeals justice Catherine Anne Ryan wrote in the unanimous ruling.

The law passed in 1995 created a 50-meter zone around abortion clinics in which protests against the facilities were not allowed. Its supporters argue it is needed to protect patients and medical staff.

Two western Canadian anti-abortion activists, Donald Spratt and Gordon Watson, violated the law in 1998 outside the Everywoman's Health Clinic in an effort to have the law struck down by the courts.

The men argued unsuccessfully that protection zone was too large and that even if it had been needed at the time it was enacted it was no longer necessary because the tone of anti-abortion protests had changed.

(Reporting Allan Dowd, Editing by Frank McGurty)