Grand River Hospital refrains from applying for a safe access zone

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Grand River Hospital (GRH) has decided to refrain from applying for a safe access zone for its Freeport Campus facility despite regular anti-abortion protests which take place in the location’s vicinity.

Earlier last week, The Safe Access to Abortion Services Act was officially enforced in Ontario. The bill ultimately establishes a ban on protesting within 50-metres of an abortion clinic.

In correspondence with the law, clinics can apply to extend their zone’s radius up to 150 metres.

Other health care facilities, such as pharmacies and hospitals, can apply for the safe access zone; however, these facilities were not included within the legislation.

The law received royal assent last October in light of increased violence and protests near abortion clinics in Ontario.

Lyndsey Butcher, executive director Sexual Health Options Resources Eduction (SHORE) Centre, said that SHORE, amongst many other abortion clinics, has been an advocate for safe zone access for decades.

“We’ve been calling for them because we feel that no patient who is accessing healthcare should be judged or shamed,” Butcher said.

It became publicly known last week that GRH has forgone their ability to apply for the safe zone.

GRH’s Freeport location is a common target for anti-abortion protests. In particular, each fall, anti-abortion protestors situate themselves across the street from Freeport for 40 days from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

“We were hoping that because they are faced with regular anti-abortion protests that Freeport would apply for a safe access zone,” Butchers said.

Butchers said that the SHORE Centre has had numerous conversations with GRH about broad community concerns surrounding the protests taking place.

“Our commitment has always been to maintain access for all patients to the Freeport Campus at all times. Grand River Hospital has heard the feedback expressed in recent days. We have also reached out to a range of stakeholders to discuss their concerns.”

“When I spoke with them I reiterated the concerns that our patients have had in accessing care at Freeport and the number of complaints we’ve received about the protests; they still continue to say that they will not be applying for the safe access zone,” she said.

Many complaints received by the SHORE Centre are from individuals who have had to access various types of care at Freeport; the affect of the protests are not limited to those seeking abortion care.

In addition, similar emotions have been brought forth for individuals simply driving by the Freeport location while protestors are present.

“We know that one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime. There’s many people who are going to Freeport who may not be there for their abortion that day, but who have had an experience of abortion in the past and they feel like they’re being judged and shamed by these protestors who have no idea what they’ve gone through,” Butchers said.

“It impacts many people; not just the people who are seeking abortion care.”

In correspondence to the controversy which has stemmed from GRH’s decision on various social media platforms, SHORE Centre has invited community members to submit messages of support.

Since creating the shared platform yesterday, SHORE Centre has already received over 200 responses.

“Many are from people who have accessed abortion care at Freeport or who have had to drive by these protestors and described the impact its had on them [sic],” Butchers said.

The SHORE Centre intends on delivering the messages of support to GRH next week during continued meetings to discuss the safe access zone and its importance for those seeking care at Freeport.

“We want to work positively with Grand River Hospital. We’re hopeful that they’ve come to the decision on their own and they’ll reconsider and apply for the zone,” Butchers said.

“But at the end of the day, if they continue to decline to apply, for the benefit of the women and trans people that we serve in this community, we will be applying for a zone on their behalf.”

In order to apply for a safe access zone on behalf of GRH, the SHORE Centre will have to convey the reasons behind the request to the office of the attorney general.

At the same time, GRH will be able to express their views behind their decision to refrain.

“It’ll be up to the office of the attorney general for which one is enforced,” Butchers said.

“So we want to show there’s broad community support for the zone.

The Cord reached out to GRH and received a statement about their decision pertaining to safe access zones as followed:

“Our commitment has always been to maintain access for all patients to the Freeport Campus at all times. Grand River Hospital has heard the feedback expressed in recent days. We have also reached out to a range of stakeholders to discuss their concerns.”

“We will carefully consider the needs of patients and our care providers in any decision to maintain access to the Freeport Campus.”

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