New Brunswick

Feds penalize province for lack of abortion access, but reimburse payments because of COVID-19

The federal government took away $140,000 in transfer payments to New Brunswick as a penalty for not providing adequate abortion access. But then gave it back.

Federal Health Minister's office says payments reduced by $140,000 because of lack of abortion access

Health Minister Patty Hajdu's office said reimbursement of the $140,000 penalty is temporary. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The federal government took away $140,000 in transfer payments to New Brunswick as a penalty for not providing adequate abortion access.

But then gave it back.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country, the government found New Brunswick was violating the Canada Health Act by not covering out-of-hospital abortions under Medicare.

As a result, it deducted $140,216 from the annual health transfer payments that were paid out in March. That's how much money New Brunswickers spent out-of-pocket on abortions at a clinic in 2017, when they were supposed to be covered.

However, because of the pressure on the health system caused by the novel coronavirus, the federal government has decided to reimburse that amount, according to a statement shared by the Minister of Health Patty Hajdu's office.

Health Minister Ted Flemming said the Health Act has a dispute mechanism that the federal government can use, but he believes New Brunswick is compliant. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

The statement said the reimbursement was "temporary", but it did not provide a timeline.

"As the prime minister has said, we will ensure that the New Brunswick government eliminates patient charges for abortion services outside of hospitals," said Hajdu's spokesperson Cole Davidson. 

The statement said discussions about reducing barriers to abortion are continuing.

During the daily COVID-19 news conference Thursday, Premier Blaine Higgs said the province's position has been clear from the beginning: "that we're not funding a private clinic in New Brunswick."

"We're meeting the Canada Health rules and the Canada Health Act," Higgs said.

Dr. Adrian Edgar, medical director of Clinic 554. (CBC)


Minister of Health Ted Flemming said the Canada Health Act is a funding statute that has a dispute resolution mechanism.

"We believe that the procedure is not in violation of the Canada Health Act ... And the ball is entirely in the federal government's court with respect to dispute resolution."

New Brunswick provides abortions in two hospitals in Moncton —  the Moncton Hospital and the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre — and the Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst.

In late February, Hajdu said "Obviously there is an inequity in terms of access to services, and under their proposed regime women are not covered in very specific regions."

New Brunswick received $860 million in health transfer payments in 2020.

Barriers remain

Dr. Adrian Edgar of Clinic 554, New Brunswick's only abortion clinic, said COVID-19 has thrown up even more barriers to people seeking abortion services.

He said travelling to get abortions in hospitals is riskier now because of COVID-19. He said allowing abortions in clinics would make the process safer.

"If they would just fund everything we do, including abortions, patients in the southern part of the province wouldn't have to travel during a pandemic and they wouldn't be asked to enter a hospital when we're trying to limit all unnecessary hospital visits," he said.

Geri Geldart, vice-president clinical at Horizon Health Network, said abortion services continue and the process has not changed since the pandemic reached New Brunswick.

"Patients accessing abortion services at Horizon's The Moncton Hospital will be screened before entering the hospital," she said.

Vitalite spokesperson Thomas Lizotte said surgical abortion services in Chaleur Regional Hospital and Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre are still operational despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Nothing has changed," he said.

About the Author

Hadeel Ibrahim is a CBC reporter based in Saint John. She can be reached at hadeel.ibrahim@cbc.ca

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