Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that the federal government is “working extremely hard” to ensure access to abortion in New Brunswick, but stopped short of actually making any commitments.
The province is the only jurisdiction in Canada not to fund abortions outside of hospitals and the Blaine Higgs government has been criticized for refusing to pay for abortion services offered at Clinic 554 in Fredericton, forcing it to scale back its operations.
In not providing out-of-hospital abortions, the province is violating the Canada Health Act, according to the federal government.
In 2019, Trudeau vowed to ensure out-of-hospital abortions would be funded in New Brunswick, and that has yet to happen.
During a question period with the media after a vaccine announcement at the Moncton Coliseum, Trudeau was asked when his government would keep that promise.
Trudeau said his government was committed to ensuring Canadians have access to reliable reproductive health services, and will continue “to impress strongly upon the government of New Brunswick how it needs to keep up its obligations under the Canada Health Act.”
He said the federal government has withheld health transfers to New Brunswick in response.
The province is not getting its full health funding because it continues “to make it difficult for women to access the full range of reproductive services,” Trudeau said.
The prime minister initially said Ottawa was holding back millions of dollars in health-care transfers to New Brunswick, but a spokesperson from the Prime Minister’s Office said after the news conference that the correct figure is $140,216.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and MP Jenica Atwin paid a visit to Clinic 554 last week.
Freeland did not announce any new funding for Clinic 554 or abortion access in New Brunswick during her visit on Friday. Instead, she referred to money previously set aside in the budget.
At the time, she said she remains steadfast in her talks with the Higgs government.
“Every Canadian has the same rights to access essential health services and sexual and reproductive services, including abortions,” she said. “We all have the right to access those services.”
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has filed a lawsuit against the province of New Brunswick, contesting restricted abortion access in the province.
The group argues the law limits access to abortions, particularly for poor and marginalized people.
— with files from Nathalie Sturgeon and The Canadian Press