We are currently witnessing a wave of attacks on reproductive rights on many fronts. In the US, 25 white men in Alabama, all members of the Republican party, recently passed a law making it a crime to terminate a pregnancy at any stage, and six other US states have also enacted laws banning most or all abortions. According to an article in The Guardian, “the right to choose in America is under serious threat for the first time in generations.”
The right to choose is also under threat in Canada. In Ontario, at a rally several weeks ago, a young member of the provincial legislature vowed to make abortion “unthinkable” in this country and another MPP speaking at the same rally quoted the bible to justify his position against reproductive rights. In Manitoba, the Christian Heritage party, which supports the Alabama legislation, is touring the province ahead of the federal election, aiming to field a candidate in every riding.
The Toronto Star reported that in Alberta, during Jason Kenney’s recent election campaign, the Premier “had a lot of help from anti-abortion activists who see him and his party as the best route to restricting and eventually banning abortion.” In British Columbia, the MLA who is the official Liberal spokesperson for children and families recently said at a rally that abortion is “totally, totally wrong.“
Closer to home, police in PEI are investigating multiple death threats made against a Charlottetown woman and her family after she shared an online petition calling for the resignation of the interim Liberal leader because he attended an anti-choice rally.
In this political climate, standing up for reproductive rights is a significant act. On May 31, MLA Megan Mitton (Green Party, Memramcook-Tantramar) made a statement in the Legislature about access to abortion in the province and asked the Minister of Health to respond. “The recent attacks on reproductive rights across the US and Canada are shining a light on the lack of reproductive justice that still exists here in New Brunswick,” Mitton said. She pointed out that the provincial regulation 84.20 of the Medical Services Payment Act “is a violation of the Canada Health Act which states that abortions are a medically necessary procedure.”
Mitton explained that although the federal government ruled more than two decades ago that provinces must fully fund private clinics performing medically necessary procedures such as abortion, Regulation 84.20 in this province restricts abortion services to hospitals. Only three hospitals in the province provide abortion services – two in Moncton and one in Bathurst. “New Brunswick is the only province in Canada which is not funding reproductive health services in a clinic within its borders, which is unconstitutional,” she said.
The Canada Health Act requires provinces to “fund reproductive health services and medically necessary procedures in clinics such as Clinic 554 here in Fredericton,” said Mitton. She explained that the consequences of not funding Clinic 554 disproportionally affect those on low income and deprive patients of services that are supportive, inclusive and offer greater privacy. Mitton also pointed out to the fiscally-minded Progressive Conservative government that abortion services provided in community-based private clinic are half the cost of providing that service in a hospital.
Mitton asked Minister of Health Ted Flemming if he would “remove the restrictive schedule 2 of regulation 84.20 of the MSPA and enable physicians to provide abortion services in their clinics in New Brunswick.” Flemming thanked Mitton for the question and committed to seek the advice of the government’s Attorney General on the constitutionally of the province’s current position of not funding these procedures.
Dr. Adrian Edgar, the physician at Clinic 554, recently called for minister Fleming’s resignation, for his “irresponsible behaviour” and violation of the Canada Health Act.
In July 2018, the group Reproductive Justice New Brunswick (RJNB) called on the then Liberal government to follow through on their promise to “remove all barriers” to abortion access in the province. The RJNB website has information on reproductive rights in the province. An online petition to repeal 84.20 can be accessed here.
The campaign to improve abortion access in New Brunswick has been raised in the Legislature previously, including in April 2016 with an earlier RJNB petition presented in the Legislature by Green Party leader and Fredericton South MLA David Coon. That same year a panel at the University of New Brunswick Law School highlighted the inequality in abortion access in the province.
Prior to 2016 and since, the NB Media Co-op has published more than a dozen stories highlighting the fight to improve safe and affordable access to abortion in New Brunswick. We will continue to follow this story.
In 2017, the NB Media Co-op broke a related story highlighting the inequality in provincial property tax assessments for Clinic 554 and the fake clinic next door that houses an anti-abortion advocacy group.
Susan O’Donnell is a member of the NB Media Co-op editorial board.