Sask. premier says 'small line' crossed by cabinet minister's comments at anti-abortion event
NDP calls for Greg Ottenbreit to be removed from cabinet position
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said a "small line has been crossed" by a speech from Minister of Rural and Remote Health Greg Ottenbreit at a recent anti-abortion event.
Ottenbreit addressed the Saskatchewan Pro Life Association's annual convention in his home constituency of Yorkton. He told the crowd to continue its "battle" and added, "I will continue to do what I can in my professional capacity."
Moe said he spoke with Ottenbreit over the weekend and said that ministers need to represent the government position. Moe said ministers will bring greetings at events like this, rather than make speeches, in the future.
"We will choose our words more carefully," Moe said.
Moe said the government's position on abortion is that it is legal and it will follow and not challenge the current Canadian laws.
"As a minister of the Crown, you carry the government message," Moe said.
When asked his position on abortion Moe said, "I am pro-life."
Moe said he "wasn't aware" Ottenbreit was attending and speaking at the event.
The comments drew criticism from the opposition. On Monday, Sask NDP asked Moe to move Ottenbreit from his portfolio. The call comes during provincial review of providing universal coverage of the abortion pill Mifegymiso.
NDP MLA Vicki Mowat called Ottenbreit's comments 'completely inappropriate' and said he should remove himself from cabinet unless he meets three criteria.
"If he is willing to stop speaking at anti-abortion events, if he is willing to ensure that he is fighting for access across rural and remote Saskatchewan and if he is willing to make sure we provide universal coverage for Mifegymiso — then I don't think he needs to step down," Mowat said.
Last week, Ottenbreit said when he was referred to his "professional capacity," he meant his role as a MLA and not as a health minister.
During question period Monday, Ottenbreit said he would continue to represent the views of his constituents and support the position of the government.
The NDP said it is concerned Ottenbreit's beliefs may be preventing cabinet from approving universal drug coverage for Mifegymiso.
Saskatchewan is one of the only provinces that doesn't provide universal coverage for the drug, which can be used to terminate a pregnancy up to nine weeks in. The province approved the drug two years ago but it is not universally covered.
Recently, University of Saskatchewan medical students lobbied the government for coverage. Health Minister Jim Reiter has ordered a review by the ministry.
The Ministry of Health said that from Sept. 2017 to Dec. 2018, 482 prescriptions for Mifegymiso were dispensed in Saskatchewan and 138 of those were covered by the province's drug plan either fully or partially.
Under the provincial drug program, the cost varies per person depending on someone's coverage and benefit programs. It costs between $300 to $450 for someone with no coverage.
with files from The Canadian Press