New Brunswick

Deputy PM promises new measures to push New Brunswick to fund abortion clinic

Ottawa is renewing threats it will punish the New Brunswick government over its refusal to fund Clinic 554, an abortion clinic, with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland on Friday saying new measures to push the province to do so will be announced soon.

Ottawa first threatened to punish the province in 2019 for its refusal to fund abortions done at Clinic 554

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland on Friday said her government would introduce new measures to push the New Brunswick government to fund Clinic 554, an abortion clinic in Fredericton. (Mikael Mayer/Radio-Canada)

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Friday that the federal government will announce "in the coming days" how it plans to ensure public funding for abortions at Fredericton's Clinic 554.

Freeland said Ottawa remains committed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's promise two years ago that he would "ensure" the province funded the procedure at the clinic.

"It should not be as challenging as it is for Clinic 554 to provide its essential services to our trans community, to families, and to women who deserve access to reproductive and sexual health services," she told reporters during a visit to Fredericton.

Asked about Trudeau's 2019 commitment, Freeland said the federal government had made a "significant" clawback of health transfer payments last year to punish the province and will have a new announcement soon.

"We mean what we say about that," she said.

"We very much recognize and salute the role Clinic 554 plays in the provision of those services, and we're going to have more to say specifically in the coming days."

In a town hall meeting with constituents Wednesday evening, Fredericton Liberal MP Jenica Atwin said she would soon be hosting announcements "around health that are particularly exciting for me, and I know they will be for you as well."

Fredericton MP Jenica Atwin announced in June that she was leaving the federal Green Party to sit as a Liberal. (Guy LeBlanc/Radio-Canada)

Freeland, who's also the finance minister, was the second federal cabinet member to visit Fredericton in a week, giving Atwin a chance to highlight her access to national decision-makers ahead of a possible election.

Atwin defected from the Green Party to the Liberals in June over internal Green feuding. She said joining the government would allow her to do more for her riding. 

Freeland was in Fredericton to talk about job creation but visited Clinic 554 with Atwin "to show our government's support for access for women across the country to sexual and productive health services," she said.

In remarks to reporters, she highlighted a $45 million fund in the last federal budget to assist sexual and reproductive health facilities by funding training programs and travel and logistical support to patients who live a long distance away.

But that falls far short of the promise Trudeau made in October 2019.

"We will ensure that the New Brunswick government allows access, paid-for access, to clinics that offer abortion services outside of hospitals," he said.

He promised to tell Premier Blaine Higgs that Ottawa would use "all tools at our disposal, including tools that exist under the Canada Health Act."

That law says nothing can "impede … directly or indirectly … reasonable access" to publicly funded health services.

But so far, Ottawa has done little more than withhold a tiny amount of funding, $140,000, from health-care transfers to New Brunswick. 

Higgs says the province is on solid legal ground, and funding abortions in three hospitals is enough to comply with the federal law.

Clinic 554 in Fredericton said it was forced to close because of the province's unwillingness to fund abortions outside hospitals. The clinic does still provide some services. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

Clinic 554 announced in 2019 it would soon close, blaming the province's refusal to fund abortions at the facility. The clinic also offered other services funded by Medicare.

Despite that warning, the clinic is still partially open, though the building remains for sale.

It has reduced services, but a voice message Friday said it remains open for abortions and for the insertion or removal of intrauterine devices, a form of birth control.

No one from the clinic responded to a message Friday asking for an update on its status. 

Abortions funded by Medicare are now provided at three hospitals in New Brunswick: two in Moncton —  the Moncton Hospital and the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre — and the Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst.

Earlier this year the Canadian Civil Liberties Association filed a lawsuit aimed at forcing the province to fund abortions at the clinic.

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