Politics

NDP willing to withhold health funding to provinces with abortion barriers

The NDP says it's willing to withhold federal healthcare funding for provinces with barriers to abortion. The pledge came out of the NDP's 2019 election platform, released on Sunday during the Ontario NDP's convention in Hamilton.

Promise to enforce the Health Act came out of NDP's 2019 election platform

Abortion rights activists demonstrate on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 9, 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The NDP says it's willing to withhold federal healthcare funding for provinces with barriers to abortion.

"In order for the provinces to get money they need to comply with the Canada Health Act," said party spokesperson Melanie Richer.

"The NDP will enforce the Canada's Health Act to make sure that the provinces make medical and surgical abortion available in all parts of the country, without barriers."

The pledge came out of the NDP's 2019 election platform, released on Sunday during the Ontario NDP's convention in Hamilton.

While abortion is legal in Canada, accessing the service in a timely matter isn't always easy.

Under the Canada Health Act, abortion services are insured in all provinces and territories. But some provinces have placed limits on funding for the procedure. Ontario does not fund abortions at every clinic, while New Brunswick does not fund abortions at clinics at all, only in hospitals. In its 2016-2017 annual report, Health Canada said New Brunswick's lack of coverage "remains a concern."

"Only one hospital in six offers abortion, and some provinces refuse to cover the cost of surgical abortion outside hospitals. Lack of access is even worse for people in rural areas and the North," notes the NDP's platform.

"It's not enough for elected officials to say that they won't reopen the abortion debate – we need leaders to take action to improve access to services."

Liberals fundraising off of debate

The abortion debate has slowly crept back into Canadian politics after a series of U.S. states passed restrictive legislation, including Alabama's state legislature which passed a law last month banning virtually all abortions, although it hasn't come into force yet. 

The federal Liberals have accused the Conservatives of wanting to reopen the abortion debate — something party leader Andrew Scheer has insisted he will not do. 

Soon after the Alabama bill passed, the Liberal Party of Canada issued a fundraising letter to supporters of reproductive rights, calling it "alarming" that a dozen Conservatives attended last week's "March for Life" rally on Parliament Hill.

"While some Conservative MPs are trying to reopen that debate by speaking at anti-choice events, screening anti-choice films, or empowering conservative politicians who 'pledge to make abortion unthinkable in our lifetime,' Liberals know that women in Canada have the right to make their own health decisions," the pitch for donations said.

The letter listed the names and ridings of the Conservative MPs who attended the rally.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also said he raised the issue of abortion access when U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence visited Ottawa earlier this month. He had previously been critical of what he called a "backsliding" on women's rights in U.S. states.

With files from the CBC's Mark Gollom

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