N.B. group launches campaign for medicare coverage of abortions at clinics
FREDERICTON -- New Brunswick has become Canada's latest abortion battleground, as a lobby group pressures the provincial government to fund the procedure at private clinics.
The government said Thursday it won't cover abortions outside three hospitals, even before Reproductive Justice New Brunswick officially launched its campaign urging them to expand funding.
The group's spokeswoman, Allison Webster, said New Brunswick is the only province where abortions are available in clinics but not covered by medicare.
She said Premier Brian Gallant vowed during the 2014 election campaign to remove all barriers to abortion access, and they want the Liberal government to follow through.
"We're really just trying to rebuild momentum and to let people know that we're still fighting to improve access to abortion services in New Brunswick," said Webster ahead of the campaign launch Thursday evening in Fredericton.
"Abortions services are still not adequate within the province. There remain a lot of barriers."
The access issue has been controversial in New Brunswick dating back to the 1980s, when the government stipulated women could only receive abortions at two hospitals following referrals from two doctors who certified the procedure as medically necessary.
That changed last year when the province moved to fund abortions at three hospitals in two cities, Moncton and Bathurst, and also scrapped the regulation requiring the approval of two doctors.
Webster said patients still have to travel hours to access abortions, which costs money and time.
"Yes, there has been some minor victories, but it's just not enough," said Webster.
Reproductive Justice New Brunswick wants the province to fund abortion services at Clinic 554, a family doctor's office in Fredericton the group opened with fundraising money in response to the closure of the Morgentaler Clinic in 2014.
It is currently the only abortion clinic in New Brunswick, but Webster hopes more will open in the future, especially in Saint John and the province's north.
Health Minister Victor Boudreau said Thursday there are currently no plans to extend abortion coverage to private clinics.
In an email statement, Boudreau said the three hospitals where abortions are currently offered are meeting demand, and the pending availability of the abortion pill Mifegymiso could also improve abortion access.
"There have been no reported wait times for abortion services in New Brunswick," said Boudreau in the statement.
But Webster said that's not true, as patients are still being referred to Clinic 554 "very frequently."
"Either they're a bit too far along for the hospital or they can't get in on time, and they're referred to Clinic 554 and expected to pay out of pocket," she said. Webster added the group does not use the term "private clinic" because it is a family doctor's office where all other medical services are fully funded by the government.
She said the group is willing to take the government to court over the issue.
Reproductive Justice New Brunswick was to launch its campaign Thursday in Fredericton with a public lecture by Dr. Colleen MacQuarrie, who was instrumental in the successful campaign to bring abortion access to P.E.I.
P.E.I. was the last province in the country to allow abortion access within the province.
Premier Wade MacLauchlan announced in March that his government would not fight a legal challenge launched in the province's Supreme Court by Abortion Access Now, which said the province has an obligation to provide safe abortions under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The province then announced in September it is providing $5.35 million in funding for an expansion of the Prince County Hospital's Ambulatory Care Centre that will include construction of the new centre that will offer the service.
-- By Aly Thomson in Halifax