Saskatchewan

NDP raises concerns about Sask. cabinet minister's remarks at anti-abortion event

Comments Saskatchewan's Minister of Rural and Remote Health made at an anti-abortion event last week were the topic of conversation at the Legislature on Thursday.

NDP asks if minister's beliefs are preventing universal coverage of abortion pill

Minister of Rural and Remote Health Greg Ottenbreit defended his personal views on abortion and said they have not interfered with his role as a cabinet minister. (CBC)

Comments Saskatchewan's Minister of Rural and Remote Health made at an anti-abortion event last week were the topic of conversation at the Legislature on Thursday.

Greg Ottenbreit made a speech to an anti-abortion group in his constituency of Yorkton last week. 

The Saskatoon StarPhoenix obtained a copy of the speech and published a story about it on Wednesday.

On Thursday, the NDP asked Ottenbreit in question period about whether his beliefs were preventing easier access to an abortion pill.

NDP MLA Vicki Mowat read a quote from Ottenbreit's speech into the record.

"The minister encouraged them to continue their 'battle' and he told the anti-choice gathering, 'I will continue to do what I can in my professional capacity,' " Mowat said.

Premier Scott Moe responded by saying, "there is a balance for all of us in this house when it comes to matters of conscience. We all have personal beliefs in this house."

Ottenbreit did not take to his feet despite repeated attempts by the opposition.

"I was quite disappointed to see that he wouldn't stand and answer those questions in that space," Mowat said after question period.

"I think that members can have their own opinions. But when we're talking about a member who is standing up in a public forum and indicating that he will continue to fight the battle that is deeply concerning."

Mowat said she wanted to know if Ottenbreit's personal beliefs may be the reason the government has been "slow" to add the abortion pill Mifegymiso to the provincial drug plan. 

Mifegymiso is available by prescription in Saskatchewan but not covered under the province's drug plan. Medical students from the University of Saskatchewan have lobbied for it to be added to the plan. Minister of Health Jim Reiter says a review is underway.

Mifegymiso is a part of the province's drug plan. The health ministry is conducting a review on whether it should be universally covered. (CBC)

The drug, which can be used terminate a pregnancy up to nine weeks in, was added to the provincial plan two years ago.

Mowat said universal access to Mifegymiso "reduces barriers increases access in rural and remote communities and is safer and less invasive" than a medical abortion.

Reiter said the government's position on abortion is clear.

"Abortion is legal in Canada. We provide those services in this province Saskatchewan," Reiter said.

He added that he is support of reproductive rights and said the abortion question is a "moot point" because the Supreme Court of Canada ruled "a long time ago."

Ottenbreit defends views 

Following question period, Ottenbreit spoke to reporters.

"It's not the first time I've been under fire for my pro-life views or my Christian faith and you know what I'm pretty solid in those views and I'm comfortable defending that."

He said when he was referring to his "professional capacity" he meant his role as a MLA and not as a health minister.

"One of those duties of mine is to convey [constituents'] message to members of caucus and cabinet," Ottenbreit said.

He said in his time as minister he has received "equal hassle" from pro-choice and anti-abortion groups.

"I've been here for four-and-a-half years and I wouldn't think anybody could point to any one decision that my beliefs influenced the direction of government."

On Mifegymiso, Ottenbreit said recommendations will be made by the ministry of health and it will "come down to a financial and a cabinet decision."

Ottenbreit said his comments in Yorkton also had to do with medically assisted death. He says constituents have has spoken to him about "conscience rights" of doctors.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the provincial affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for more than 14 years. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca

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