Canada: activists sue province over refusal to fund abortions in private clinics

Human rights activists in Canada have filed a lawsuit against the province of New Brunswick for its refusal to fund abortion services in private clinics – as they are in the rest of the country.

The lawsuit suit filed by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) argues that the refusal violates both the law and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms – Canada’s constitution.

Canadian provinces and territories have a variation of different policies and regulations that facilitate abortion access, but New Brunswick is the only province that does not cover the procedure outside of hospital settings. The provincial government has not made it clear why it refuses to cover abortion access in non-hospital settings and refused to comment on the lawsuit.

Last year, the federal government withheld more than $100,000 to the province for violating federal law by refusing to cover abortions outside hospitals. Those funds were paid later that year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, although the province has not taken action towards changing its current policies.

Jessi Taylor, spokeswoman for Reproductive Justice New Brunswick, said that with only three hospitals in the province offering abortion services, abortion-seekers face many obstacles.

“Depending on where a person lives, driving to the hospital can take up to 17 hours,” she said, adding that having so few hospitals provide these services also causes safety and confidentiality concerns.

The CCLA sent a formal notice and statement of claim to the province’s attorney general in November, warning that if Regulation 84-20 – the legal document that allows non-hospital abortions to go without funding – was not repealed within two months, the association would take legal action.

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But CCLA’s director of equality, Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, said she was worried the New Brunswick government’s legal strategy will be one of attrition, delaying public access to abortions for as long as possible.

“I hope they will do the right thing,” Mendelsohn Aviv said. “[But] so far they have refused to do so.”

According to Mendelsohn Aviv, the government said nothing about the timeframe, “which is effectively refusal”.

“I would like to think that in 2021, no government would think it’s remotely feasible to deny a group their basic equality rights,” Mendelsohn Aviv said. “And abortion is a basic equality right, for women and trans people.”

The CCLA aims to repeal a section of Regulation 84-20 that lists non-hospital abortion as a procedure that is disqualified from government funding. The out-of-pocket costs of an abortion in the province range from C$700-850, according to local Clinic 554.

The province has 20 days to respond to the statement of claim which was filed on Wednesday. If it does not, the court could rule in the CCLA’s favour without trial.

“Right now we have a system built on luck and privilege,” Taylor said. “And luck and privilege is not actually an adequate approach to policy.”



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