The Time Has Come – Again: Securing Equal Access to Abortion in New Brunswick
Dear ARCC-CDAC Supporters,
Could you please take a moment and write a letter or two, to protest the lack of abortion services in New Brunswick.
It’s been nineteen years since the Supreme Court of Canada told women that access to a safe and timely abortion was their right. Yet, the government of New Brunswick continues to impose arbitrary, unnecessary obstacles to obtaining abortion. With the exception of PEI, where there are no abortion services at all, NB has the most restrictive abortion policy in the country.
In January, representatives from the NB Advisory Council on the Status of Women, ARCC, the National Abortion Federation, the two doctors performing hospital abortions, the Manager of the Morgentaler Clinic and the Director of the University of New Brunswick Health Clinic met with the New Brunswick Minister of Health, Michael Murphy. All spoke passionately of the need to drop the discriminatory Regulation in the Medical Services Payment Act (MSPA) that severely limits access and puts women’s health at risk. The Minister did not express any concern or interest in discussing the problems imposed by the MSPA. There was every indication from the Minister that this would not be a priority for him or his government.
Here’s how the system currently works in N.B. To be covered by Medicare, an abortion must be performed in a hospital by a gynecologist. In addition, two physicians, generally your family doctor and the gynecologist performing the abortion, must certify in writing that the abortion is ‘medically necessary’.
There are currently only two gynecologists providing hospital abortions and they cannot meet the need. There is no back-up when these physicians are ill or on leave.Women are not being referred to hospitals outside the province as there is no reciprocal billing arrangement.
The majority of abortions in NB are now performed at the private Morgentaler clinic in Fredericton. There, women will pay $500 to $750 because the province has steadfastly refused to fund the clinic. The past year has seen a 25% increase in the number of patients either choosing or forced into this option.
Accessing a funded hospital abortion is next to impossible for those women with no doctor, or an anti-choice doctor. Indeed, a survey done a few years ago indicated that 27% of patients at the Morgentaler Clinic went there because they could not obtain the written consent of two doctors.
Forcing the two doctors to certify in writing that the abortion is ‘medically required’ is redundant and insulting to women. Doctors should not have to invent additional medical reasons such as “pregnancy induced depression” so that their patients are eligible for a hospital abortion and payment by Medicare. It’s demeaning to everyone involved. Health Canada has said that since abortion has been deemed a medically required service by all provinces under the Canada Health Act, it must be fully funded regardless of where it is performed, hospitals or clinics.
Because abortion is legal and available, it’s been difficult to rouse the public to action. Just how bad things are doesn’t become a reality until you or someone you know is facing an unplanned pregnancy. The climate of fear and shame that continues to surround abortion here makes it difficult for people to speak up and demand change.
But things are beginning to move forward. In the past year there has been a public rally to support choice and two well-attended pro-choice panel discussions. There has also been a marked increase of letters to the editor supporting choice. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada wrote to the Minister of Health to express concern over the lack of access and to point out the value of using trained family physicians to perform abortions in a clinic setting, as they do throughout Canada.
Clearly, the government of New Brunswick is discriminating against women, especially those who are most vulnerable: poor women, young women, rural women. This is a health issue, not a moral, religious or political one.
The time has come – again. The right to a legal, safe abortion has been secured. We must now ensure that there is equal access to that right.
You can help by writing to the key players and demanding that Section 84-20 of the Medical Services Payment Act be immediately repealed to give N.B. women the same rights as women in other parts of Canada…a publicly funded abortion whether performed in a hospital or a clinic. Sample letters are available below.
The Honourable Michael Murphy, Minister of Health
P. O. Box 5100
Fredericton, NB, E3B 5G8
The Honourable Tony Clement, Federal Health Minister
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6
The Honourable Michael Murphy
Minister of Health
P. O. Box 5100
Dear Honourable Mr. Murphy:
Access to abortion care in New Brunswick is highly inadequate. As a direct result, your government is denying women access to safe, timely, and funded abortion care, in violation of the Canada Health Act.
We ask that you immediately repeal Regulation 84-20, Schedule 2(a.1)) of New Brunswick’s Medical Services Payment Act, which states that abortion can only be funded by Medicare with the approval of two doctors and must be performed at a hospital by a specialist. This regulation violates women’s constitutional rights, as well as all five principles of the Canada Health Act (comprehensiveness, universality, accessibility, portability, and public administration). Health Canada has confirmed that since abortion has been deemed a medically required service by all provinces under the Canada Health Act, it must be fully funded regardless of where it is performed, hospitals or clinics.
We urge you to begin full funding of all abortion care provided at the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton immediately. The majority of women needing abortions are forced to go to this clinic and pay in full for their medically required abortions, because hospital access falls far short of the actual need. The services provided by the clinic are a critical component of reproductive healthcare for NB women. The hardship and discrimination faced by women who are unable to obtain an abortion at a hospital and must pay has been well documented by clinic staff and presented to you.
Thank you very much for your prompt attention to this matter.
The Honourable Tony Clement
Federal Health Minister
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON, K1A 0A6
Dear Honourable Mr. Clement:
Access to abortion care in New Brunswick is highly inadequate. As a direct result, the NB government is denying women access to safe, timely, and funded abortion care, in violation of the Canada Health Act.
We are urging the New Brunswick government to immediately repeal Regulation 84-20, Schedule 2(a.1)) of New Brunswick’s Medical Services Payment Act, which states that abortion can only be funded by Medicare with the approval of two doctors and must be performed at a hospital by a specialist. This regulation violates women’s constitutional rights, as well as all five principles of the Canada Health Act (comprehensiveness, universality, accessibility, portability, and public administration).
In your authority as federal Health Minister, may we please ask you to contact Health Minister Michael Murphy in New Brunswick to urge him to immediately start funding the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton. The majority of NB women needing abortions are forced to pay in full for their abortions at this clinic. As you know, the NB government is in violation of the Canada Health Act by refusing to fund clinic abortions, even though abortions have been deemed medically required under the Act and so must be funded whether performed in hospitals or clinics.
We also urge you to re-start the Dispute-Avoidance Resolution process with New Brunswick, begun by your predecessor, Ujjal Dosanjh. This process is vital to achieve a satisfactory solution to this ongoing problem, a solution that will ensure that all New Brunswick women seeking abortions will be treated equally by being able to obtain a fully-funded procedure at a hospital or clinic.
Thank you very much for your attention to this matter.