The federal government has reduced the Canada Health Transfer to New Brunswick by approximately $140,000, saying the province has failed in its obligation to fund out-of-hospital abortions.
It’s only the latest event in the dispute over abortion funding between the two levels of government.
In New Brunswick, abortions are only funded by the provincial government at three locations: two hospitals in Moncton and one hospital in Bathurst — locations that critics say limit accessibility for those who need the procedure.
Abortions are only offered in limited locations because previous provincial governments have not repealed a regulation, known as Regulation 84-20, banning the funding of abortions outside of hospitals.
The province is the only jurisdiction in Canada to not fund abortions outside of hospitals.
New Brunswick refused to pay for abortion services offered at Clinic 554, a private facility in Fredericton. As a result, it was forced to close down late last year.
A contentious dispute between Ottawa, New Brunswick
Blaine Higgs’ PC government has said that it believes it is complying with the Canada Health Act.
Ottawa has disagreed.
The federal government reduced the Canada Health Transfer to New Brunswick by $140,216, as a result of patient charges for abortion services provided outside of hospitals in 2017.
Funding was only temporarily restored as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the pressure it placed on the health-care system.
Now the federal government has reiterated its belief by lowering the 2021 Canada Health Transfer to New Brunswick by $140,000.
New Brunswick Health Minister Dorothy Shephard was dismissive of any concerns on Tuesday.
“It’s not new news,” said Shephard, at a press conference announcing mental health plans.
Saint John-Rothesay MP Wayne Long, a Liberal backbencher, shared the news on his Twitter feed Tuesday.
“This is equivalent to the value of out-of-pocket costs paid by (New Brunswickers) for out-of-hospital abortion care services in the past year,” Long said.
“I have long advocated, both publicly and within caucus, for our federal government to take additional action to put pressure on the Higgs government with the (Canada Health Act) and uphold the Charter-protect right to choose in (New Brunswick).”
Shephard seemed nonplussed with Long’s statements.
“Mr. Long is going to beat this drum and we’re proceeding as per our policies that we’ve had in place,” she said.
Health Canada did not respond to a request for comment.
A legal challenge and protests
New Brunswick already faces a legal challenge from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association on the topic.
In court filings, the association says that Regulation 84-20 restricts access to abortion in the province.
Other organizations have asked the province to fund abortions outside of hospitals, including one of its own health networks.
The board of Horizon Health passed a motion in October 2019 that supported the clinic, saying the board would “advocate to the government of New Brunswick for payment to physicians to provide abortion services in a quality and safe environment outside of hospitals.”
The provincial government did not act on the motion.
Residents even protested during the latest provincial election in an attempt to get the Higgs government to change its stance.
–With files from the Canadian Press