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Brian Gallant addresses a news conference in Fredericton Wednesday. His officials are collecting names of those who might agree to serve on a committee to look at how to make it easier for women to have abortions. (James West/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Brian Gallant addresses a news conference in Fredericton Wednesday. His officials are collecting names of those who might agree to serve on a committee to look at how to make it easier for women to have abortions. (James West/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Incoming New Brunswick Premier moves to remove barriers to abortion Add to ...

New Brunswick’s premier-designate, Brian Gallant, who publicly declared his pro-choice stand in a province that restricts women’s access to abortion, is moving quickly to remove those barriers.

His officials are already collecting names, including doctors and human-rights experts, of those who might agree to serve on a committee to look at how to make it easier for women to have abortions.

A senior Gallant strategist says the premier-designate wants to deal with this issue “swiftly and cleanly” – “just get it behind [us] fast,” the strategist added.

Mr. Gallant, a 32-year-old lawyer, and his Liberals defeated the Progressive Conservative government, winning 27 of 49 seats on Monday after the 32-day campaign. His government will be sworn in within two weeks. Only eight female MLAs were elected – four each for the Liberals and Conservatives.

But that is a step up for the Liberals, who had no women in their previous caucus. New Brunswick has one of the lowest percentages of representation by women in its legislature in the country.

The abortion issue, if not dealt with quickly, is one that will continue to stalk him as it did during the election campaign. Although it does not appear he was punished by voters for his pro-choice position – some of the ridings where anti-abortion literature was distributed elected Liberal MLAs – it is an issue that can be a huge distraction, especially for a new government that has promised to move on job creation.

However, the abortion issue blew up even before the election campaign after the closing in July of the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton. It performed 60 per cent of the abortions in the province – or 600 a year.

A regulation, brought in 25 years ago by a previous Liberal premier, Frank McKenna, requires that a woman get the approval of two doctors to receive a medically funded abortion. In addition, only two hospitals in the province perform the procedure – often forcing women to travel from their communities.

Successive governments, both Progressive Conservative and Liberal, wouldn’t touch the politically charged issue, despite calls for the regulation to be repealed.

Mr. Gallant has adopted federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s position that Liberal MPs support pro-choice policies. Mr. Gallant’s MLAs will also be compelled to support women’s rights, including the right to choose to have an abortion.

Repealing the contentious regulation does not require a vote in the legislature. It can be repealed by cabinet. During the campaign, pro-choice advocates called for Mr. Gallant to immediately repeal the regulation. They were not satisfied with his position that he look at, not just the regulation, but all barriers to women’s reproductive rights, such as funding, or how to recruit more doctors to the province.

Kathleen Pye, of Reproductive Justice NB, says “we are really happy that in one of his first addresses he is talking about this.”

“It’s obviously a really concerning issue and needs to be addressed right away,” she said, reiterating her view that the regulation needs to be repealed immediately.

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