Skip to main content

The operating room at Fredericton’s Morgentaler abortion clinic is shown in 2002.DIANE DOIRON/The Globe and Mail

Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's pro-choice stand is reverberating through New Brunswick, where abortion-rights activists are vowing to make the closing of the Fredericton Morgentaler clinic an election issue – and the provincial Liberal leader is offering little support.

As the Sept. 22 provincial election quickly approaches, activists are putting pressure on the 32-year-old leader, Brian Gallant – who is significantly ahead in public opinion polls – to promise to repeal a regulation that restricts public funding for abortions in the province if his party forms the next government.

They are frustrated and surprised by his vague response to the issue, especially given Mr. Trudeau's position, which stipulates that all his federal candidates vote pro-choice.

Mr. Gallant has said he is personally pro-choice and will "move swiftly to address this issue in a comprehensive way."

Long-time Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett, chair of the federal Liberal women's caucus, says the provincial regulation has to go.

"It's hard to interfere in an election year," she says, "[but] it seems like there is a pretty easy solution there in terms of just repealing [the law] … Obviously, I would prefer that it take place as quickly as possible."

In May, she and two other Liberal MPs, including New Brunswick's Dominic LeBlanc (who is also co-chair of the provincial campaign), wrote to federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose, arguing the law contravenes the accessibility principle of the Canada Health Act. They wanted the minister to step in, but, Ms. Bennett says, Ms. Ambrose has not responded. (She also was not available to speak with The Globe and Mail on Sunday.)

In New Brunswick, meanwhile, Liberal abortion-rights activists say it's the provincial Liberals doing the stonewalling – avoiding calls, e-mails and messages.

The Progressive Conservative government's position, which is to maintain the status quo, was expected, says Kathleen Pye, the chair of Reproductive Justice NB, but the New Brunswick Liberals "acting the way they have has surprised everybody."

Mr. Trudeau's pro-choice mandate was "exactly what we needed to hear," said Ms. Pye, adding that it has put "more emphasis" on the New Brunswick Liberals to adopt a similar stand.

"The way to do that is by repealing the law," she says.

Mr. Gallant could not be reached for comment.

The Fredericton Morgentaler clinic had operated for 20 years and performed 600 abortions – or about 60 per cent of the abortions in the province – a year.

A regulation adopted by the then-Liberal government in 1989 requires that medicare pay for an abortion only if it is performed by a gynecologist on the referral of two doctors, who have both deemed the procedure "medically necessary." Ms. Pye is concerned now about how hospitals – there are only two in New Brunswick that will do the procedure, one in Moncton and the other in Bathurst – will accommodate the women who would have gone to the Fredericton clinic. She says that 60,000 New Brunswickers do not have family doctors, and some women may have go to several walk-in clinics to find doctors to help them.

Interact with The Globe