Professors urge NB Ministers to act on women’s rights to reproductive freedom

Written by Wendy Robbins on April 17, 2014

Rally_Leg_Judy_abortion

About 500 people rallied for accessible abortions in New Brunswick on April 17 at the NB Legislature in Fredericton. Photo by Judy Burwell.

This letter was sent to Hugh Flemming, NB’s Minister of Health, and Marie-Claude Blais, NB’s Minister responsible for Women’s Equality.

I am writing as Coordinator of the Gender and Women’s Studies Interdisciplinary Program at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton; faculty members in our program dedicate their teaching, research, and community service to promoting women’s equality. We are deeply concerned that the further severe restrictions on reproductive choice that women in New Brunswick and PEI will face with the closing of the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton in July will have tragic results, especially for the most vulnerable women in our region. The closure of the clinic is caused, not by lack of demand for abortion services, but by archaic and paternalist provincial regulations which flagrantly violate the Canada Health Act.  Many of our faculty, students, and colleagues are amongst the tens of thousands of people who have signed a petition calling on the provincial government to repeal the pertinent portion of NB Regulation 84-20 of the Medical Services Payment Act and immediately start funding out-of-hospital medical procedures that are essential for women’s reproductive freedom and security of the person.

Protest rallies, petitions, and public statements by numerous equality-seeking organizations, local, national, and international, share one clear and reasonable goal: that the government of New Brunswick respect the Canada Health Act and stop blocking Medicare coverage of pregnancy termination procedures (unless done in one of only two hospitals in the province and with the approval of two doctors). As you are aware, it is hard enough to get timely access to one physician in many parts of our province, let alone two; moreover, this is the only medical procedure for which two doctors’ written approval is needed, which is a shamefully paternalistic and entirely arbitrary requirement. Coverage of these medical expenses is available in the rest of Canada without the unfair and illegal restrictions that exist in our region and earn for New Brunswick widespread condemnation by everyone concerned about basic human rights as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and upheld by a long-standing decision of the Supreme Court of Canada respecting abortion.

There is no more fundamental women’s rights issue than security of the person. Human rights activists in our province fought for well over a decade to get the Morgentaler Clinic established in Fredericton, and we will fight to keep it open. Women who can’t afford $700-$800 for an abortion clearly can’t afford to raise a child; consequently, they are making a responsible decision when they seek to end an unplanned pregnancy. The curtailment of women’s reproductive freedom, imposed by successive provincial governments, is neither about women’s health nor sound public policy; it is about ideology, and it is a clear violation of federal law.

More than 10,000 people have signed the petition circulated recently by social work students at St. Thomas University. To this courageous effort, we join our voices. The unfolding tragedy for women in New Brunswick and PEI is national news for it is truly a national disgrace.

We call upon you to act immediately to repeal the pertinent portion of NB Regulation 84-20 of the Medical Services Payment Act, which puts shameful and punitive restrictions on women’s human rights and poses clear dangers to women’s health and well being. No more excuses: the Morgentaler family has withdrawn its legal suit so there is no reason to claim that you cannot act since the issue is before the courts. It is not.

At election time, we will remember your choice, to honour the Canada Health Act and respect women’s rights to reproductive freedom, or to let our province remain an anomaly and embarrassment to the whole country.

Yours sincerely,

Wendy Robbins, PhD
Professor, Coordinator of Gender and Women’s Studies

On behalf of UNB Gender and Women’s Studies faculty, past and present, including:
Dr. Jennifer Andrews, English
Dr. Mira Bachvarova, Political Science
Dr. Carolyn Bassett, Political Science
Dr. Anne Brown, French
Dr. Sandra Byers, Psychology
Dr. Gail Campbell, History
Dr. Christa Canitz, English
Dr. Wendy Churchill, History
Dr. Margaret Conrad, History
Dr. Lauren Cruikshank, Culture and Language Studies
Dr. Linda Eyre, Education
Dr. Anna Hamling, Culture and Language Studies
Dr. Jennie Hornosty, Sociology
Dr. Bonnie Huskins, History
Dr. Linda Kealey, History
Dr. Sophie Lavoie, Culture and Language Studies
Dr. Koumari Mitra, Anthropology
Dr. Sasha Mullaly, History
Dr. Linda Neilson, Sociology
Dr. Carmen Poulin, Psychology
Dr. Mary Rimmer, English
Dr. Charlene Shannon-McCallum, Kinesiology
Dr. Janet Stoppard, Psychology
Dr. Gillian Thompson, History
Dr. Lisa Todd, History
Dr. Joanne Wright, Political Science
cc.  Premier of New Brunswick, David Alward
Minister of Status of Women (Canada), K. Kellie Leitch
Mayor of Fredericton, Brad Woodside
UNB President Eddy Campbell
UNB Human Rights Officer, Barbara Roberts
Opposition Leader, Brian Gallant
MLA Fton-Fort Nashwaak, Pam Lynch
Morgentaler Clinic Fredericton, Simone Liebovitch
CBC, Shaun Waters
The Daily Gleaner, Gisele McKnight
The Brunswickan, Cherise Letson

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