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Still much to be done for women’s abortion access after Liberal announcement

The barriers facing a New Brunswick woman’s right to choose may have been tackled in a historic announcement from the Liberal government this week, but local officials say the fight for abortion access is far from over.

Last Wednesday, Premier Brian Gallant announced that amendments would be made to regulation 84-20 of the Medical Services Payment. The amendments would eliminate the requirement that two physicians certify the procedure is medically required, as well as remove the requirement that the procedure be performed by a specialist.

The amendment, which will be effective as of Jan. 1, 2015, will put reproductive health procedures in the same category as any insured medical service. The government will also be working with the regional health authorities to increase capacity and improve timeliness of access.

“It’s great that the government has finally started to make some changes, but for us to act as if our fight is over now would be ludicrous,” said Sarah Dominie, chair of the University Women’s Centre, which serves both UNB and STU campuses and provides information to all students on issues such as abortion, sexual health and eating disorders.

Dominie said that while it can indeed be considered a victory that abortions will no longer need to be deemed “medically required,” this becomes problematic when you take into account that the province still has not pledged to fund services outside of hospitals, and there are only two hospitals in the province that will perform the procedure — in Moncton and in Bathurst.

“It’s one of those things about New Brunswick that just makes you hang your head,” said Dominie.

“We’ve seen an inevitable increase in women travelling to Maine and Quebec for the procedure, as they cannot rely on their home province to provide basic access to health care.”

Jessi Taylor, spokeswoman for New Brunswick Reproductive Justice, sees the changes as a first step in fostering improved abortion access for New Brunswick women.

“We’re extremely pleased that these two pieces of legislation were abolished … [but] without that third piece, a lot of the changes that were made don’t have any practical applications, not without something more to supplement,” said Taylor.

“In failing to apply reproductive health best practices by refusing to fund services outside of hospitals, New Brunswick continues to be in violation of the Canada Health Act … People are sometimes treated in a punitive way when they access abortions in some hospitals. There are also confidentiality problems when abortions are provided in a hospital.”

Dominie believes the key going forward lies in “continuing to make our voices heard.”

“The efforts of pro-choice activists in the province over the last several months — notably the rally at the legislature in April and the nationally-trending hashtag #NBProChoice — seem to be what has really been causing the government to notice, and bringing awareness to the injustice happening here,” she said.

“New Brunswick is letting its women down. Abortion access is not something the government can keep from us. Canada is not a place where the government makes your choices for you, uncomfortable conservative old men be damned.”

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