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July 17, 2006

Uncertain Future: NB Abortions

Uncertain future
Abortion debate continues in N.B.
http://www.herenb.com/saintjohn/issues/0726/uncertain.html


Abortions always come with some uncertainty but after the Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital in Fredericton announced it would stop providing publicly funded abortions at the end of June, and with pro-life groups rallying to prevent Moncton's George Dumont from picking up the slack, many New Brunswickers are wondering about the procedure's future in the province.

"We have no information, no idea on anything.

All we know is that we are busy," said Simone Leibovitch, a staffer at Morgentaler clinic in Fredericton, which charges up to $750 for an abortion.

Currently, Chalmers is the only hospital in New Brunswick that provides provincially funded abortions. Last year it performed 400 of the 404 medicare abortions in New Brunswick, while the Morgentaler Clinic performed approximately 600.

"Anytime a hospital stops providing abortions it's a victory," said Pete Ryan, executive director of the New Brunswick Right to Life Association.

The Provincial Government says two hospitals will step in to provide the services, but they aren't saying where.

"There will be no interruption in service," said Johanne Leblanc spokesperson for the department of health. "For safety reasons, physicians, and even I myself, don't know where it will be taking place." "How are people suppose to get to the hospital if no one knows where they are taking place?" wonders Michelle LeBlanc, a New Brunswick feminist and graduate engineering student.

The notion that physicians are forced into secrecy for providing legal government funded services to patients seems worrisome. But fear of anti-abortion extremists is only one of the impediments to proper abortion access in NB.

The New Brunswick government currently refuses to fund abortions unless they are deemed "medically necessary" by two physicians and performed in a hospital, by a gynecologist.

"The government makes it extremely hard to get access to abortions paid for under the Canada Health Act," said Fredericton women's rights activist Jennifer Carkner.

New Brunswick is the only province in Canada that refuses to pay for abortions performed in clinics, even though the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 1988 that the procedure falls under the Canada Health Act and should be funded by taxpayers.

"N.B. rules are archaic. A woman shouldn't need two doctors' permission to have an abortion," said Leibovitch.

Along with being 'archaic', current policies aren't cost effective. Bringing a patient into a hospital operating room costs far more than using a clinic; gynecologists are more expensive than doctors, who can perform the procedure just as easily.

"I think it would be really smart if the government funded this (Morgentaler clinic) so women don't have to pay," said Leibovitch, who has been working at the clinic for a year.

"We have the set up and staff here, where its a lot more economically sensible than using up O.R. time in the hospital." Before being partially legalized in 1969, botched abortions were a leading cause of emergency room visits from young women.

"We don't believe abortion is ever a necessary option," said N.B. Right to Life's Ryan.

In 1970, a group of women set off from Vancouver to Ottawa on what would be deemed the 'abortion caravan'. They stopped in communities along the way hosting guerrilla theatre presentations portraying back street abortions, in church basements.

Upon arriving in Ottawa, 300 women and men marched on Parliament Hill, demanding a meeting with government. None of the politicians would talk to them, so 30 women chained themselves to their chairs in House of Commons gallery, reminiscent to the actions of British suffragists a century before.

This helped kick start a long term struggle for open access and full legalization.

After years of protests and legal battles, the whole abortion law was thrown out January 28, 1988, when the Supreme Court handed down an extraordinary ruling: "The right to liberty...guarantees a degree of personal autonomy over important decisions intimately affecting his or her private life," said one of the Justice's. "The decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy is essentially a moral decision and in a free and democratic society, the conscience of the individual must be paramount to that of the state." In New Brunswick, the conscience of the state seems to be the religious right and there seems to be no problem limiting individual choice.

At the end of the day, no one really likes the 'abortion debate', it's always the same heated arguments back and forth. Besides, pro-choice won...

Or so we thought?


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