Voter survey suggests desire to improve abortion access, but what does that look like?
Majority of respondents say the government should do more to ensure services are more readily available
New Brunswickers want to see improved access to abortion services in the province, a CBC News survey of more than 6,500 respondents suggests.
Using the Vote Compass feature, more than half of respondents said the provincial government should do more to ensure that abortion services are readily available throughout New Brunswick.
Roughly a quarter of replies said the status quo is fine, while 14 per cent of respondents said the government should do less to improve access.
When the respondents are broken down by sex, age and education, the vast majority of respondents are either in favour of improved access or keeping matters as is.
More than 70 per cent of younger voters, aged 18 to 34, want more access. That figure drops to 56 per cent for respondents aged 35 to 54 and 47 per cent for the 55-and-over crowd.
What does more access look like?
Beth Lyons, executive director of the New Brunswick Women's Council, said the divisive issue is now a decided issue following the Morgentaler Supreme Court case and what comes next is the task of expanding access.
"New Brunswick has done better in recent years," she said.
The Gallant Liberals knocked down barriers, including eliminating the two-doctor rule, allowing patients to self-refer to hospital sites.
"We were also the first provincial government in Canada to create a universal access program for Mifegymiso," Liberal spokesperson Jonathan Tower wrote in an email. "We will continue to ensure all women have access to choices relating to their reproductive health."
The number of surgical sites in hospitals has increased to three in addition to a non-hospital site, Clinic 554 in Fredericton. Two of the hospital sites are located in Moncton and the other in Bathurst.
"It's great that access has been improved," Lyons said, "but we would note that the third access point wasn't done to expand regional access."
Improving regional access is something the NDP would do, according to Fredericton South candidate Chris Durrant.
He said the party would save Clinic 554 by bringing it into the public sector and making staff salaried members of the public service.
"The public sector would be able to learn from that model and replicate it," Durrant said.
The Green Party is of the same mind.
"The Green Party believes that access to abortion needs to be equitable across various regions of the province and that it should also be publicly funded outside of hospitals in community clinics like Clinic 554," said spokesperson Shannon Carmont in an email.
Durrant said the NDP would repeal the regulation that patients must pay out-of-pocket for surgical abortions at non-hospital sites. At Clinic 554, the procedure could range from $700 to $850.
'There is no public list'
The introduction of Mifegymiso, a pill that induces an abortion, was "critical," Lyons said, but challenges still exist.
Patients need access to ultrasounds in a timely manner to find out how far they're along, she said, and it's still unclear to many, which physicians would prescribe Mifegymiso and which pharmacies stock it.
"There is no public list," Lyons said, adding women are forced to start cold calling.
"That's a really tough cold call to make again and again if you're afraid you'll face stigma and particularly if you're in space where your safety is in danger, you're precarious in some way or worried about more people finding out about this."
The Progressive Conservatives said the party would not change current legislation.
People's Alliance spokesperson Wes Gullison said in an email the party respects the Supreme Court ruling, but MLAs would be able to represent the will of their constituents on the issue.
Gullison said the People's Alliance would consider improving adoption services.
"The party would like to focus on improving adoption services for women who would use that option, such as support and educating the public to remove any negative stigmas that may exist toward the adoption process," he said.
Each party's stance on the issue aligns well with Vote Compass respondents who shared their party of choice.
The NDP, Green and Liberal supporters skew heavily in favour of more access, while the largest shares of PC and People's Alliance voters would keep matters unchanged.
A note on methodology
Developed by a team of social and statistical scientists from Vox Pop Labs, Vote Compass is a civic engagement application offered in New Brunswick exclusively by CBC and Radio-Canada.
The findings are based on 6,547 responses who participated in Vote Compass from Aug. 24, 2018, to Aug. 31, 2018.
Unlike online opinion polls, respondents to Vote Compass are not pre-selected. Similar to opinion polls, however, the data is a non-random sample from the population and has been weighted in order to approximate a representative sample.
Vote Compass data has been weighted by gender, age, education and country of birth to ensure the sample's composition reflects that of the actual population of New Brunswick, according to census data and other population estimates.