Canada’s health minister, Jean-Yves Duclos, has expressed his concern about the lack of equitable access to abortion services throughout New Brunswick.
However, he has not committed to any new steps to force the provincial government to expand the service. Duclos is waiting for a study commissioned by Ottawa in 2021 on barriers to access in the province.
The province offers abortions up to 13 weeks of pregnancy in three hospitals, two in Moncton and one in Bathurst, funded by Medicare. It refuses to fund the procedure at Fredericton’s Clinic 554, a private clinic.
The province says offering it at three hospitals in two cities is enough to meet demand.
Clinic manager, Valerya Edelman, said Ottawa has been “supportive” by commissioning the study and funding abortion-rights groups, but she’s not sure if there’s anything else Duclos can do. Last year, Duclos announced $3.5 million for two abortion-rights organizations, including Action Canada, which helps cover travel and accommodation costs for people seeking abortions.
The Progressive Conservative government of Blaine Higgs passed legislation in December allowing some surgeries to be performed in private clinics outside hospitals and billed to Medicare.
A private clinic in Bathurst is now doing publicly funded cataract surgeries, helping to cut down on surgical wait times in hospitals. In 2020, Higgs said funding abortions in a private clinic would be “a slippery slope.”
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is suing the province over abortion access, arguing New Brunswick is violating the Constitution and the Canada Health Act.
In the 2019 federal election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to “ensure” the province funded abortions at private clinics such as Fredericton’s Clinic 554.
In 2021, Trudeau claimed his government had clawed back “millions” of dollars in federal health transfer payments to New Brunswick over limits on access, but the actual amount that year was $140,216. In the lead-up to another election campaign that year, his government announced the study of abortion access in the province.
The research project would examine gaps and barriers to the service, such as costs, transportation, and discrimination and was expected to take 18 months.
Former University of New Brunswick law professor Jula Hughes, one of the researchers on the project, said Monday that the report had been delayed, and she now expects to have it finished around June.