Grand River Hospital applies for Safe Access Zone after community pressure

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On Feb. 1, 2018 the Ontario Government implemented the Safe Access to Abortion Services Act.

Grand River Hospital’s Freeport campus originally decided not to apply for the safe zone.

The Sexual Health Options Resources and Education (SHORE) centre decided to act, and over a two-week period collected more than 330 messages in support of the safe access zone around the Freeport campus.

SHORE sent the messages to the Board of Directors at Grand River Hospital.

On Feb. 15 Judy Linton, Chief Nursing Executive and Vice President Clinical Services at Grand River hospital, met with Lyndsay Butcher, Executive Director at the SHORE centre, to discuss the importance of a safe access zone around the Freeport campus of Grand River Hospital.

Linton explained that before the meeting with Butcher, Freeport senior staff was unaware that patients were uncomfortable with the protesters and thus did not feel the need to apply for the safe aczone.

“Originally, we did not believe that there was an issue in terms of women coming to the clinic, that they were being harassed,” Linton said.

“We had not had any reports from the senior leadership team about any negative incidences related to the protesters so that that point we did not think it was necessary.”

After receiving feedback from the SHORE centre, Freeport decided to apply for the safe zone in order to continue to provide safe abortion care for women.

“Well we started to get some feedback, primarily from the SHORE centre, who are a partner of ours,” Linton said.

“To be clear we are both trying to do the same thing … which is provide a safe access to abortion services.”

When Linton and Butcher met to the discuss the fact that Freeport was not applying for the Safe Zone, Butcher expressed the challenges which people felt during their experiences at Freeport.

“I think what was important was women that have been to the clinic did not necessarily express any discomfort to the staff at the clinic at the time because obviously [they were] going through the procedure,” Linton said.

“For the past several years, individuals opposed to abortion have protested across the street from Freeport in an attempt to discourage patients from accessing health services. Thanks to the Safe Access Zone, patients will be able to access the healthcare they have chosen without judgement or shame.”

“It wasn’t till a couple of days afterwards that they perhaps went to counselling or follow-up at the SHORE centre that they would express that they had felt uncomfortable going past the protesters, we decided that it made sense to apply for the safe zone.”

The Anti-abortion protesters usually gather to protest against the women’s right to choose very close to the proximity of the Freeport campus, because of the safe zone application protesters will have to move at least 150 meters away from the front entrance of the campus.

“In our experience, the 40 days for life protesters had in the past assembled from the bottom of our driveway at the Freeport campus, they were very visible to people coming into and out of the hospital,” Linton said.

“The protesters can still protest but they will be a little bit further away, so hopefully when women come to the clinic, [protesters] won’t be right in their face so to speak.”

The SHORE centre expressed in a statement to The Cord that the decision to end a pregnancy should not be influenced by protesters attempts to discourage people from accessing legal and safe health care.

“SHORE Centre is very pleased that Grand River Hospital has decided to apply for a Safe Access Zone of 150 metres around Freeport. As with all healthcare decisions, the choice to end a pregnancy is deeply personal and private,” SHORE said in a statement.

“For the past several years, individuals opposed to abortion have protested across the street from Freeport in an attempt to discourage patients from accessing health services. Thanks to the Safe Access Zone, patients will be able to access the healthcare they have chosen without judgement or shame.”

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