Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

New Brunswick forced to confront abortion access issue

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This column courtesy of CanadianCrossing.com runs here with complete permission.

We will have at least one more provincial election in 2014, the regularly scheduled election in New Brunswick on September 22. We might have a key issue in New Brunswick with a topic that rarely comes up in Canadian political circles these days: abortion.

Morgentaler Clinic

New Brunswick is pretty spread out as a province. Prince Edward Island is pretty far away, even from Fredericton.

The Morgentaler Clinic was the only private clinic in New Brunswick, with no private clinics in Prince Edward Island, to offer abortions. The clinic closes its doors tomorrow.

Those who go to the Morgentaler Clinic have to pay for the abortions. The clinic had been subsidizing abortions but could no longer stay afloat financially.

Under the law in New Brunswick, a woman who wants an abortion covered by medicare must have 2 doctors certify in writing that the procedure is medically necessary and the abortion must be done by an obstetrician/gynecologist in approved hospitals (one each in Moncton and Bathurst).

(Moncton is in southeastern New Brunswick on the Bay of Fundy; Bathurst is in northeastern New Brunswick near Quebec on Chaleur Bay.)

Many of the clinic’s patients came from Prince Edward Island. The provincial government claim no doctors in the province will do abortions; the province sends women to a hospital in Halifax provided they have a referral from their family doctor.

Distance. Money. Time. All these factors make getting an abortion in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island difficult, even with the clinic.

Where we are now in Fredericton

The Progressive Conservatives, under Premier David Alward, have a considerable advantage in the legislature. The PCs have 41 seats, the Liberals have 13 seats, with 1 Independent MLA.

While the New Brunswick legislature currently has 55 seats, the parties will be vying for 49 seats in the September election.

On the surface, the PCs shouldn’t have a concern. Sure the economy isn’t great in the province, but the Liberals have a lot of ground to make up to get enough MLAs for a majority. The NDP don’t even have a seat currently in Fredericton.

Brian Gallant (Liberal) and Dominic Cardy (NDP) don’t have much of a chance to be the next New Brunswick premier. The timing of the election and the abortion issue could shake up the makeup of the New Brunswick legislature.

Gallant has said a Liberal government would “move swiftly to address this issue in a comprehensive way, once and for all, and ensure we are respecting a woman’s right to choose.”

Gallant knows the Liberals are in a tough situation. Be too specific and risk losing votes. But voters need to know that the situation will improve for women if the party gains power in Fredericton.

Of the 55 current MLAs in the legislature, 7 of them are women.

Where we will be in September

The federal fight over abortion, while not as loud these days, focuses on federal Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau, whose position is that the party and its MPs be pro-choice, and federal Conservative backbenchers, who would love to make abortion more difficult nationwide.

New Brunswick isn’t concerned with what happens on the federal level. However, even conservatives in New Brunswick will have to recognize that the loss of the Morgentaler Clinic is a political issue in September.

The Maritimes are a conservative place, especially on abortion. The Morgentaler Clinic was a beacon of hope in women’s health care. And now it’s gone. But it could be the start of a movement to bring the region in line with the rest of Canada.

This is a political issue until September 22. No matter which party wins that day, abortion rights will still be a health care and economic concern in New Brunswick.

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