LEAF is gravely concerned by the announced closure of the Morgentaler Clinic in New Brunswick. On Thursday April 10, 2014, the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton announced that after 20 years of providing no-referral-required abortions, it must close its doors due to lack of funds.

Abortion has been a legal procedure in Canada since the 1988 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Morgentaler. [1]  In that challenge to Canada’s abortion laws, the Court struck down section 251 of the Criminal Code, which had required that women receive approval from a therapeutic abortions committee (TAC) prior to obtaining a legal abortion.The majority found that s. 251 violated women’s rights to security of the person and acted as a profound interference with women’s bodily integrity.

New Brunswick has refused to abide by the provisions of the Canada Health Act, R.S.C., 1985, c. C-6, which requires that medically necessary services performed by a physician be provincially funded. New Brunswick enacted a regulation (Regulation 84-20, Schedule 2 (a.1) of the Medical Services Payment Act) that states that abortion is not an “entitled service” for provincial funding “unless the abortion is performed by a specialist in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology in a hospital facility approved by the jurisdiction in which the hospital facility is located and two medical practitioners certify in writing that the abortion was medically required”.

The Morgentaler Clinic (and its founder, until his death last year) have funded abortions for women who are unable to afford the full cost, spending just over $100,000 in support of women’s health. The Clinic is a critical provider of abortion services in New Brunswick due to the restrictive nature of the province’s regulation of abortion. The Clinic also provides services to women from Prince Edward Island who have a serious lack of options available to them for reproductive choice.

New Brunswick’s requirement that two doctors must certify in writing that an abortion is medically required acts as an unacceptable barrier to access to abortion in a Canadian province. It operates in precisely the same restrictive way as the TAC requirement that the Supreme Court of Canada found violated women’s Charter rights in Morgentaler. It is a significant barrier to low-income women seeking abortion services in New Brunswick, since it requires them to pay for abortions themselves, when the cost should be covered as an insured service under the provincial health care plan. This is an indefensible situation for Canadian women to face, in light of the important Charter-protected rights at stake.

LEAF calls upon the government of New Brunswick to immediately:

(1)  introduce legislation to fund abortion services at the Morgentaler Clinic; and

(2)  repeal Regulation 84-20, Schedule 2 (a.1) of the Medical Services Payment Act.

Please join LEAF in this call by contacting New Brunswick Premier David Alward to urge him to implement these changes.

More broadly, LEAF is deeply concerned that while abortion is legal in Canada, access to it remains a challenge for many women across the country, particularly in rural areas, as well as in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and the North. One obstacle to access is the fact that abortion is included on a list of “excluded services” in reciprocal provincial billing agreements. This means that women temporarily living outside of their home province, such as students, rural women whose nearest facility for accessing an abortion is across a provincial border, or women who have recently moved to a new province and do not yet qualify for that province’s insurance scheme, do not have access to publicly funded abortion care. Abortion is a time-sensitive procedure. Waiting for provincial health insurance coverage to take effect or paying for the procedure themselves is not a realistic option for many women. [2]  Further, it may constitute a violation of women’s rights to life, liberty and security of the person.

Access to abortion is critical for women’s equality rights. Please help LEAF to protect women’s reproductive rights in Canada. Contact your MP and call for abortion services to be removed from the list of “excluded services” in reciprocal provincial billing agreements in fulfillment of the portability guarantees in the Canada Health Act and the equality rights of women.

Together, let’s make our voices heard!

[1] R. v. Morgentaler, [1988] 1 SCR 30
[2]  West Coast LEAF Position Paper: Access to Abortion and Contraception (2013) http://www.westcoastleaf.org/userfiles/file/Position%20Paper%20abortion%20and%20contraception%202013.pdf