New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said Tuesday that he does not believe his province has breached the Canada Health Act by declining to fund out-of-hospital abortions – a message he intends to communicate in a coming meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail on Tuesday, Mr. Higgs said abortion services are provided through the provincial health care system in three hospitals and the province "certainly” meets the need for the procedure.
“If we felt that we weren’t providing the service in reasonable manner, I mean, it would be a different story,” Mr. Higgs said. “But we are.”
The Premier’s comments come as the medical director of a Fredericton-based clinic, known as Clinic 554, says it faces “impending closure” as a result of provincial resistance to funding the procedure outside of hospitals in Moncton and Bathurst.
Dr. Adrian Edgar said in an interview on Tuesday that he provides abortions to patients every week, adding his clinic wouldn’t have to do the work if the province were “meeting the need" at the three hospitals.
No patient should have to come to a clinic and pay out of pocket for a medically-necessary procedure, Dr. Edgar said, adding the provincial legislation infringes on the health-care rights of patients.
“This is a basic question that the Premier needs to answer,” he said. "Is it reasonable to ask a woman to go 150 kilometres away from her family to have a procedure that is stigmatized, painful, sometimes traumatic emotionally for the person to make a decision where they can’t even talk to their loved ones about it afterwards? No. It is not reasonable.”
On Monday, federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called for Ottawa to act immediately to withhold cash transfers to New Brunswick until the province provides funding for out-of-hospital abortion services.
In a letter to Mr. Trudeau, Mr. Singh said Canadians expect the federal government to “not just talk about being pro-choice but to stand up for abortion access when it is under threat.” He also said Mr. Trudeau should investigate direct funding for Clinic 554 in the interim.
Elizabeth May, who recently stepped down as the leader of the Green Party but continues to lead its three-person parliamentary caucus, has also raised her concerns about Clinic 554 with the Prime Minister.
Mr. Higgs said Tuesday that he looks forward to upcoming discussions with Mr. Trudeau and he is “very open and willing to share all the facts” with him.
The Prime Minister’s Office did not comment on Tuesday when asked whether abortion access will be raised in the discussion between Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Higgs. A date has not been set for the meeting but Mr. Trudeau intends to meet all premiers.
During a Fredericton stop during the election campaign in October, Mr. Trudeau said that if re-elected, he would meet with the Premier and let him know that “we will use all tools at our disposal, including tools that exist under the Canada Health Act.”
In July, Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor, a New Brunswick MP, also sent a letter to premiers asking them to remove all barriers to abortion access.
Sarah Kennell, the director of government relations for Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, a pro-choice charitable organization focused on sexual health and rights, said Tuesday that New Brunswick is indeed violating the Canada Health Act.
The federal legislation on public health care contains criteria and conditions that provinces and territories must fulfill to receive the full federal contribution under the Canada Health Transfer.
It is also “insulting” and “untrue” to suggest the province is meeting abortion needs through the three hospitals, Ms. Kennell said.
“Ironically, the three hospitals that do provide abortion care provided by the province, actually refer patients to the clinic because they offer services to a higher gestational limit, to 16 weeks rather than 14 weeks," she said.