Funding abortions in private clinics would be a 'slippery slope,' says Higgs
New interim Liberal Leader says his party would fund private clinic abortions
Kerri Froc still believes the government had no authority to remove tents that were part of a citizens protest at the New Brunswick Legislature on Friday.
But the associate law professor at the University of New Brunswick said the debate only diverts attention from the real issue — the lack of government funding for abortions performed at Fredericton's Clinic 554.
While seizing the tents was a "distraction," Froc said the move is "connected" to the larger issue.
"You have a government that thinks that they can ride roughshod over our private property rights, over our constitutional rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, and also thumb their nose at women's constitutional rights."
She said it's the same issue that women have been battling in New Brunswick for decades.
"We just keep on having to fight this fight over and over again. And here we are in New Brunswick in the year 2020 … having to fight fights that women had to fight in the 1970s."
On Monday morning, Premier Blaine Higgs said he wasn't opposed to more hospitals offering abortions.
"If it really is access, then there's an avenue to deal with that," he said during a news conference.
But the request should come from health officials, not politicians, said Higgs.
Froc said Higgs's willingness to provide abortions at more hospitals is "somewhat of a development," but she said health officials have already made it clear that they'd like to see better access.
Horizon Health has already joined reproductive right activists in calling for funding private-clinic abortions. The authority passed a resolution to that effect earlier this year.
"Every excuse they've thrown up has been thoroughly debunked," said Froc. "So what's left?"
As for the complaints from protesters about having their tents removed from the grounds of the New Brunswick Legislature on Friday night, Higgs said the decision wasn't made by him but by the Speaker of the legislature.
"But it's my understanding that the protesters themselves were never removed. It was only the structures that were a concern."
Participants were protesting the lack of funding of abortions outside hospitals. Currently, Medicare only covers abortions performed at three hospitals in the province, two in Moncton and one in Bathurst.
The only other place providing surgical abortion services is Clinic 554.
It is a slippery slope. And if you do it for one service, where does it stop?-Blaine Higgs
On Friday evening, protesters were presented with a notice from the sergeant-at-arms. It said that no structures, including tents, could be erected on the property and camping was not permitted.
Froc, who was part of the protest, said there was no legal basis for removing the tents. She said she spent hours looking for legal justification and couldn't find any.
Speaker Daniel Guitard told CBC News on the weekend that he made the decision with the staff and advisory team after being told it was a longstanding practice not to permit tents on the property for security reasons.
Dominic Cardy, who criticized the speaker in a tweet Saturday, refused to discuss the issue with reporters Monday. He would not say whether he agrees the Speaker had the authority to remove the tents.
On Monday, the newly named interim Liberal leader sided solidly with the protestors.
"The protest should not have happened," said Roger Melanson. "Because if the current premier would fund Clinic 554, there wouldn't have been anybody here on the weekend. And individual rights and women's rights would have been respected."
Melanson said his party supports funding Clinic 554.
"We have said that during the campaign and we still support that," he said on Monday.
"It's a human right, it's an individual right, and the premier should realize that the services that are offered there are important and essential."
Clinic 554 is a family medical practice that, in its words, "is committed to sex-positive, gender-celebratory care, anti-racist and feminist practices, and full-scope reproductive care, including abortions."
It serves about 3,000 patients as a family practice, and every service it provides — other than abortion — is covered by Medicare, said Dr. Adrian Edgar, who runs the clinic.
Edgar, who specializes in LGBTQ care, said the clinic subsidizes the cost of abortions for patients. He said that just isn't viable and he plans to close the facility.
On Monday, Higgs maintained his position that the province is not violating the Canada Health Act by not funding abortions outside hospitals.
He said abortions are already funded at three hospitals and if the question is about access, "then the next suggestion should be, 'Well, then is there another hospital that should be performing the service?'"
Higgs said he's concerned that funding abortions in private clinics would set a precedent.
"So if we're going to suggest … that it's more cost-effective to offer services in a private clinic, then where does that stop? Does that mean that we should continue to offer more and more services in private clinics and less and less services in public institutions?"
Higgs said it's "a slippery slope. And if you do it for one service, where does it stop?"