CANADA – Deputy Prime Minister promises new measures to push New Brunswick to fund Clinic 554

The federal government in Ottawa is not supposed to fund provincial health care, but they first threatened to punish the province of New Brunswick in 2019 for their refusal to fund abortions at Clinic 554 in Fredericton, which has been in the news in Canada since at least 2019 (see above) when lack of funding threatened to shut them down.

On 23 July 2021, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the federal government would soon announce how they plan to ensure that New Brunswick would provide public funding for abortions at Clinic 554, which had been promised by Prime Minister Trudeau in 2019. The clinic provides services to the trans community, to women who need abortions and other SRH services, and to families.

Freeland said the federal government had made a “significant” clawback of health transfer payments last year to punish the province and remains committed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise two years ago that he would “ensure” the province funded abortions at the clinic. She talked about a $45 million fund in the last federal budget to assist sexual and reproductive health facilities by funding training programmes and travel and logistical support to patients who live a long distance away.

But Trudeau had also promised to “ensure that the New Brunswick government allows paid-for access, to clinics that offer abortion services outside of hospitals”. So far, however, Ottawa has done little more than withhold $140,000 from healthcare transfers to New Brunswick, a tiny amount.

Earlier this year the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) filed a lawsuit aimed at forcing the province to fund abortions at the clinic. In June 2021, Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Tracey DeWare granted the Association’s request for public interest standing to launch their constitutional challenge.

The problem is that a New Brunswick regulation bans government funding for abortions conducted outside three approved hospitals. While he could remove the ban without having to amend legislation, New Brunswick Premier Higgs claims the province is on solid legal ground, and funding abortions in the three hospitals is enough to comply with federal law. CCLA argues that this is a restriction that forces women to travel to one of the three authorised hospitals (possibly long distances) or pay out of pocket at Clinic 554, and that this limits access, particularly for poor and marginalised people. Case law is thought by CCLA to be on their side, so they are pursuing the challenge.

Clinic 554 had announced already in 2019 that it would soon close, blaming the province’s refusal to fund abortions at the clinic. The clinic also offered other services funded by Medicare. While the clinic is still partially open at this writing, there are very reduced services and the building remains for sale. A voice message Friday said it remains open for abortions and for the insertion or removal of intrauterine devices. How much longer this can go on seems uncertain.

SOURCES: CBC News, by Jacques Poitras, 23 July 2021 ; Globe and Mail, by Sarah Smellie, 1 June 2021 ; VISUAL: Three news reports in the Campaign newsletter about Clinic 554 in 2019-20.