Tia Beaudoin, a recent Political Science Honours graduate at University of New Brunswick, has kindly offered her thesis as a series of guest blog posts on the subject of the abortion policy in NB, with particular regard to the laws that have resulted in abortion being virtually inaccessible for much of the Maritimes.
As it’s very long, I’ve broken it up into multiple posts:
As an editor’s note, I should point out that Dr. Henry Morgentaler died last May, and after his death, the clinic he founded in New Brunswick — which he’d been fighting to force the government to cover the costs of the procedures done there in the courts over the last 11 years — was forced to close for lack of funding, despite the Canada Health Act requiring funding of abortions. The provincial government, thanks to Regulation 84-20, only covers funding for abortions recommended by two doctors as “medically necessary” — a law that makes it nearly impossible to obtain the two doctors’ sign-off during the mandated first twelve weeks of the woman’s pregnancy. Those two facts essentially make it impossible to get medical funding, and the clinic under Morgentaler had mandated to never turn away a woman in need. As a result, it has lost close to $100,000 over the past ten years.
Worse, the lawsuit was dropped in the wake of the ongoing backlash against Regulation 84-20.
Change is inevitable for New Brunswick; the only thing the provincial government can do is slow that change down, although resisting change comes at the high cost of restrictions being placed upon women’s rights and health care. Many who are following the ongoing Morgentaler v. New Brunswick case speculate that the provincial government is stalling the case because they are waiting for Morgentaler to die, as he is growing older and in ill health. If this happens, the case will dissolve and if someone else were to wish to continue with that case they would need to start from the beginning. Even if Morgentaler dies before the case is over, the human rights complaint will still be processed, attacking Regulation 84-20 from the physician’s side rather than from a women’s rights standpoint. Regardless, it is only a matter of time before the federal government chastises New Brunswick for not properly adhering to the Canada Health Act, however this will likely not happen while Prime Minister Harper is in office. I believe the likelihood of the federal government deducting from New Brunswick’s Canada Health Transfer would be increased under a Liberal or New Democratic government, as those parties are far less socially conservative by definition than Canada’s current government.
While it is very important to strive towards the end of unwanted pregnancies through the distribution of sexual health information and increasing access to and knowledge of contraception for women, abortion is still a critical service and should be equally provided as a choice for all women regardless of where they live. This service should be easily accessible in both hospitals and clinics, and the social stigma which surrounds abortion needs to be erased as a whole, but especially within the medical community. A doctor’s first priority should be treating every patient with respect, and disseminating the most accurate medical information they can find, especially if they feel they are unable to provide a service due to personal morals. In certain studies it has been proven that a large proportion of physicians give women lower quality treatment than men,1 steps must be taken to recognize and end this practice in Canada, especially with regards to female-specific services such as abortion.
New Brunswick women are suffering under oppressive abortion regulation which restricts their rights and freedoms which have been guaranteed by the Charter. Not only do these practices contravene women’s Charter rights, they also infringe upon the Canada Health Act, which was enacted to ensure all Canadians receive the healthcare they require with equal access across the country. The federal government has formally recognized this fact in the past, and yet they have done nothing to solve the problem. Efforts are underway within the province to end this oppression, but are likely to experience delay in their success. Although it may take another decade, the confining abortion regulation in New Brunswick today will be changed, and today’s provincial government will reside on the wrong side of history.
1 Cornelia Borkoff et al, “The effect of patients’ sex on physicians’ reccomendations for total knee arthroplasty,” 178, no. 6 (2008).