Special to The Globe and Mail
Last week, the Fredericton Morgentaler clinic announced that it would be closing its doors in July due to a lack of funding. The closure of the clinic, which performs more than half of all abortions in New Brunswick, will remove the only real option for abortion access for many women in the province.
This news follows less than a year after the passing of Dr. Henry Morgentaler, whose landmark 1988 Supreme Court case was responsible for striking down Canada’s abortion law and shifting jurisdiction over the procedure to the provinces as a health care service. This case is often portrayed as the final battle for abortion rights in Canada, but the realities of accessing abortion in New Brunswick reveal the continued fragility of women’s reproductive rights.
Prince Edward Island, where no abortion services are available, is often touted as the worst province in Canada with regard to abortion access. While this reputation is well deserved, it has often obscured some similarly disturbing policies in New Brunswick.
The nature of access to abortion services in New Brunswick is set out in regulation 84-20 of the Medical Services Payment Act, put in place by the Frank McKenna government in 1989. The regulation lays out the requirements for coverage of abortion under the provincial Medicare program. Women seeking coverage must obtain written approval from two doctors who must determine that an abortion is “medically necessary” before they can make an appointment with a gynecologist at one of two New Brunswick hospitals authorized to perform abortions. It is a race against time to secure these permissions and an appointment for the procedure before the 12th week of gestation. This regulation appears to be modeled on pre-1988 therapeutic abortion committees, which required the approval of multiple doctors for a woman to access a legal abortion – requirements that have no foundation in medicine.
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