coerced into funding abortions
A year ago, Ottawa was pressuring New Brunswick to pay for abortions committed in Henry Morgentaler’s Fredericton abortuary. Today, nobody seems to be in a hurry to pursue that issue.
Under former premier Bernard Lord’s Conservative government, the province paid for abortions only if they were done in hospitals after two doctors attested to “medical necessity.” The government had a strict policy of not funding medical procedures in any private (for-profit) clinics, including the Morgentaler facility, where women pay upwards of $700 for an abortion.
The province claimed abortions committed in stand-alone facilities are elective procedures, since the abortuaries do no assessment or demonstration of medical necessity. It argued that medicare covers abortion only in cases of genuine medical necessity. It also argued that the Canada Health Act specifies it is up to provinces to determine which procedures are “medically necessary” and eligible for public funding.
The former federal Liberal health minister, Ujjal Dosanjh, had insisted that unwanted pregnancy is always a medical emergency and abortion is always a medically necessary service, so under the Canada Health Act, he argued, the province must pay for those abortions.
For years, Morgentaler used those same arguments and was very vocal when some New Brunswick hospitals stopped committing abortions a couple of years ago. Again in May 2005, when Chalmers Hospital in Fredericton announced it no longer had the staff or resources to do abortions, he demanded the government pay for abortions at his private facility.
Like Morgentaler, Donsanjh continued to insist the province pay for all abortions, not just the ones committed in hospitals. But New Brunswick continued to resist.
In the fall of 2005, Donsanjh increased the pressure by naming a three-member panel to resolve the issue. This move was a matter of considerable concern to pro-lifers, for the outcome was unpredictable and took the decision out of the hands of the province, which was more amenable to not using taxpayers’ dollars to fund private abortuaries.
Since then, however, the major players have changed. In February 2006, Conservative Tony Clement became the new federal health minister. In September, New Brunswick elected a Liberal government, with Mike Murphy as its new health minister.
Nothing more has been heard about Donsanjh’s panel, and New Brunswick’s new government says it has no plans to change existing policies regarding procedures in private facilities.
In response to an inquiry from a reporter at the Saint John Telegraph-Journal, Clement said he has not heard formally or informally from his provincial counterpart on the issue: “The ball is in their court ... He has to decide what their stance is on this issue and communicate it to us.” Asked when he would initiate action, Clement said he will wait until he hears from Murphy.
The issue is not a priority for Murphy. “It hasn’t come up on my agenda,” he told the paper. “There’s no plan for change that I know of at the present time.”Peter Ryan, executive director of New Brunswick Right to Life, welcomed the news. “There really is no need for a dispute. The province’s policy is reasonable, ethical and legal,” he said. “Ottawa should defer to provincial jurisdiction over health care. That seems to be what Mr. Clement is now doing. This is good news … a positive move.”
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