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N.B. premier says government hasn’t ‘discussed any changes’ to abortion funding as only clinic plans to close

New Brunswick premier Blaine Higgs speaks to reporters on October 16, 2019. .
New Brunswick premier Blaine Higgs speaks to reporters on October 16, 2019. . Silas Brown / Global News

New Brunswick premier Blaine Higgs is accusing Justin Trudeau of using the impending closure of the province’s only abortion clinic as an election issue.

“All the tools that he talks about are the tools he’s had for the last four years and the decision that was made here in the case of New Brunswick, was made four years ago,” Higgs said while speaking to reporters Wednesday.

“It’s an empty statement that is typical of an election process that someone generates to deflect from maybe other issues that they just do not talk about.”

READ MORE: Trudeau promises re-elected Liberal government would stand up for abortion rights in New Brunswick

The comments come after Clinic 554, New Brunswick’s only abortion clinic, announced it will soon have to close its doors.

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“A Liberal government will always defend women’s rights, including when challenged by Conservative premiers. That’s something that we know (Conservative Leader) Andrew Scheer will not do,” Trudeau said on Tuesday in Fredericton.

He went on to say that he would use all the tools at his disposal to ensure that clinics like 554 are properly funded. The federal government has the power to withhold transfer payments that are used to fund healthcare services in provinces.

“I will sit down with Premier Higgs, if re-elected, and let him know that we will use all tools at our disposal, including tools that exist under the Canada Health Act,” Trudeau said.

READ MORE: New Brunswick’s only private abortion clinic set to close

Higgs also said that the government currently has no plans to changes to abortion services in New Brunswick which, due to the province’s Medical Services Payment Act, can only be preformed in hospitals. Currently only hospitals in Bathurst and Moncton are able to perform surgical abortions.

Higgs added that he wouldn’t succumb to political pressure to change the policy, which also existed under the previous Brian Gallant liberal government.

“We haven’t discussed any changes to that in the sense of looking at that seriously but I guess this isn’t the time to be pushed into that because someone says well I’m going to close and so here’s an election,” he said.

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“We know a lot of decisions in election time are made for that purpose only.”

READ MORE: Former B.C. premier Christy Clark weighs in on pro-life federal candidates

When speaking about why the clinic isn’t funded Higgs pointed to the Canada Health Act which prohibits the funding of private clinics. But many private clinics that are insured under medicare do exist around the country due to an interpretation of the Canada Health Act in 1995 by then health Minister Dianne Marleau.

“As a matter of legal interpretation, the definition of ‘hosptial’ set out in the act includes any facility that provides acute, rehabilitative, or chronic care. This definition covers those healthcare facilities known as ‘clinics'” Marleau wrote.

When it was pointed out that it is New Brunswick’s Medical Services Payment Act that many blame for the funding impasse due to a line that says only abortions preformed in a hospital are insured, Higgs said he was not familiar with the regulation.

“I’m not familiar with that,” he said.

“I would look into that myself if that is the case but I don’t know that. Any reference that I’ve been told, any indication that I’ve been shown has been based on the requirements of the Canada Health Act not allowing for privately funded facilities to be covered under medicare.”

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