New Brunswick

Abortion reform sparks new questions from opposition parties

Premier Brian Gallant’s decision to remove barriers to abortion services in New Brunswick is not ending the contentious debate as his main opposition rivals are seeking more answers.

Opposition Leader Bruce Fitch questions need to change 2-doctor rule

Premier Brian Gallant announced on Wednesday that New Brunswick will no longer require women to have an abortion approved by two doctors starting on Jan. 1, 2015. (CBC)

Premier Brian Gallant’s decision to remove barriers to abortion services in New Brunswick is not ending the contentious debate as his main opposition rivals are seeking more answers.

Gallant announced on Wednesday that his government was scrapping the regulation that set up the controversial two-doctor rule, which has been in place for two decades.

The regulation has been viewed by many as a barrier to abortion access in the province. The fact that the changes were made in regulation means there will not be a vote in the legislature when it resumes in December.

Opposition Leader Bruce Fitch said he wants to raise the abortion reforms in the legislature next month. (CBC)
Opposition Leader Bruce Fitch said that Gallant's policy change raises several questions about how the procedure will be administered in the future.

"He has made some changes here without the regulation being posted online," he said.

"That leaves a lot questions that we want answered."

The former Tory government posted all draft regulations on a website and invited public comments for 30 days. The site has not been updated since Gallant's Liberals came to power in October.

Fitch said he intends to raise the abortion changes in the legislature in December. He stopped short on outlining what form the Tory questioning will take, however. 

He said the Opposition Tories would decide that strategy at its current caucus retreat. The opposition leader also questioned the need for the policy change.

"We were supporters of the status quo, of the two-doctor rule," Fitch said.

Starting on Jan. 1, the new regulation will no longer require two physicians to certify the procedure is medically necessary. This change will put reproductive health procedures in the same category as any insured medical procedure.

Gallant 'righted a wrong'

The Greens and NDP supported the policy change, but it didn't end all of the questions.

Green Party Leader David Coon congratulated Gallant on the decision to scrap the contentious two-doctor rule.

Green Party Leader David Coon said he believes the next step in the abortion debate is about allowing the service to be done outside of hospitals. (CBC)
“The premier has righted a wrong. He has removed a regulation, or will remove a regulation, that has trampled over rights of women in this province,” Coon said.

“That is significant, something that is long overdue. I congratulate the premier in showing that leadership and having the courage to do so.”

Coon does agree with his Tory counterpart about the need to raise this issue in the legislature.

But the Green party leader said he wants Gallant to take the next step, by allowing the procedures to be done outside of hospitals.

“We need to bring health care out of our hospitals and into our communities to be effective and timely, reproductive health care included,” he said.

The premier said abortion procedures no longer have to be performed by specialists, however, they must be done in hospitals. Gallant said the Department of Health would work to ensure better access and timeliness in the province's hospitals.

Gallant also earned plaudits from NDP Leader Dominic Cardy.

NDP Leader Dominic Cardy said his party has long opposed the two-doctor rule. He applauded Gallant for ending the policy. (CBC)
Cardy said in a statement that his party has long demanded the removal of the restrictions on abortion.

“I’m glad the government has decided to ease access to abortion services,” Cardy said in a statement.

“This is an important step that brings our province closer to the rest of the country when it comes to women’s rights.”

The NDP leader said he doesn't believe Gallant's reforms should end the conversation about access to abortion.

“While it is disappointing that a women’s health centre in Fredericton, at the site of the former Morgentaler clinic, will not be able to operate, we believe the discussion around the private provision of public health-care services can and should continue, but this should not detract from praise for Premier Gallant’s decision," he said in a statement.

New Brunswick's political parties were forced to debate their abortion policies earlier this year when the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton announced it would close in July.

The clinic said it couldn’t continue to perform abortions without provincial funding. The long-standing regulation meant women using the Fredericton facility could not have the procedures covered by medicare.

In April, Gallant promised a review of abortion services if he was elected. 

Shortly after winning the Sept. 22 election, Gallant said he would convene a group of experts, either those inside the government and perhaps some from outside, to identify the barriers to abortion.

About the Author

Daniel McHardie

Digital senior producer

Daniel McHardie is the digital senior producer for CBC New Brunswick. He joined CBC.ca in 2008. He also co-hosts the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.