Right to abortion in Canada: not everything is won


(Fredericton) Although abortion is legal in Canada, access to it is very uneven. Visit our neighbors in New Brunswick, where he is restricted in all sorts of ways.

Veronica Lauzon
Veronica Lauzon
The Press

It is not only in the United States that the debate on the right to abortion is alive and laws restrict its accessibility. In Canada too, where a province is suspected of limiting access by refusing to fund clinics. But the battle is brewing: pro-choice organizations could turn to the courts to force New Brunswick to comply with Canadian laws.

"I can say without a shadow of a doubt that one of the provinces where access to abortion is the most difficult is New Brunswick," says Allison Webster, counselor at Clinic 554 and spokesperson. of Reproductive Justice New Brunswick.

Although it appears to be a right acquired in Canada for 31 years, access to abortion varies considerably from one province to another. In Quebec, there are about fifty clinics and hospitals that perform abortions, covered by the Régie de l'assurance maladie, and there is no limit to the number of weeks of pregnancy to obtain this medical service. , although it is rare for a woman to have an abortion beyond 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Covered at the hospital only in New Brunswick

In New Brunswick, the situation is very different. First, it is the only province that requires abortion to be performed in a hospital to be funded by the government.

Individuals who want a voluntary termination of pregnancy, covered by health insurance, must therefore turn to one of three hospitals (two in Moncton and the third in Bathurst) offering this service.

The only other option available in this Maritime province is the 554 Clinic in Fredericton, a private facility where you have to pay from $ 700 to $ 850.

For the medical director of this clinic, the Dr Adrian Eoin Edgar, the provincial government continues to limit access to abortion knowingly, "leaving a funding model for unfair and illegal health care."

In the other provinces, there are abortion clinics and they are funded by their government. New Brunswick deserves this help service without the women having to pay out of pocket.

Allison Webster, counselor at Clinic 554 and spokesperson for New Brunswick Reproductive Justice

According to her and many advocates of the right to abortion, the fact that the provincial government covers this service in hospitals but refuses to reimburse it in clinics contravenes the Canada Health Act, which guarantees that services abortion services are insured and fully funded by provincial medical plans.

Accessibility to all four facilities is a problem especially for women living far from Bathurst, Moncton and Fredericton, says Dr Edgar. "Patients have to travel hundreds of miles to access an abortion," he said by email.

A handful of New Brunswick women (eight in 2018) turn to the Rimouski Regional Hospital or the Rivière-du-Loup Regional Hospital for an abortion, not least because these hospitals are located closer to home. .

There is also the fact that New Brunswick hospitals do not perform abortions after the fourteenth week of pregnancy. At Clinic 554 in Fredericton, surgery is available until the sixteenth week. Again, people have to go to another province or Maine if they want an intervention after 16 weeks of pregnancy.

Possible closure of Clinic 554

Prior to the creation of Clinic 554, the only abortion clinic in the Maritimes was the Morgentaler Clinic, also in Fredericton. It closed in 2014, after 20 years of existence, unable to survive financially. Already, free choice organizations were critical of the government's decision not to reimburse service in clinics.

"New Brunswick has been doing this for 25 years, inflicting injuries and injuries on tens of thousands of women," said the Coalition for the Right to Abortion in Canada.

Thanks to a New Brunswick Reproductive Justice fundraiser, which raised more than $ 125,000, Clinique 554 opened in 2015 at the former Morgentaler Clinic. Very modest premises located in downtown Fredericton.

Although his name has changed, the private clinic is still struggling to survive financially. According to the Dr Adrian Eoin Edgar, she is holding out thanks to donations from "citizens and community groups". The clinic also offers several services for LGBTQ2 + communities.

We never refuse a patient. If necessary, our staff will work for a lower wage or free of charge.

The Dr Adrian Eoin Edgar, Medical Director of Clinic 554

The Dr Edgar recalls the decision of the Superior Court in 2006 to condemn the Quebec government to pay $ 13 million to women who had had abortions in a private clinic since 1999.

If the New Brunswick government continues to restrict abortion in the province, including by not funding private clinics, "a similar class action, which had resulted in millions of dollars in retroactive payments to Quebec patients, could to be at home, and then the government of New Brunswick would make its mistake. "

The right to abortion in Canada

The Canada Health Act ensures that, like any other medical care, abortion services are insured and fully funded by the provincial medical plans.

The situation in Prince Edward Island

Until 2016, women did not have access to abortion services in Prince Edward Island and had to travel to New Brunswick or Nova Scotia to get the service. A lawsuit was filed by Abortion Access Now in the Supreme Court of that province, saying that under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it had an obligation to provide the services. The Liberal provincial government then announced that it would not oppose this lawsuit and would open its first medical center offering abortion as a public service, which it did.

Abortions in New Brunswick: Activists Call on Ottawa to Take Action

Pro-choice advocates from across the country are mobilizing for the New Brunswick government to step back and provide access to the services women are entitled to. For their part, anti-choice activists are anxiously waiting for Canadian politicians to bring the subject of abortion back into the debate.

At the beginning of the week, when she received an invitation to meet the Prime Minister of Canada, Mariane Labrecque believed a joke.

"It was almost too good to be true," said the spokesperson of the Coalition for the Right to Abortion in Canada and the Quebec Federation for Birth Planning. Justin Trudeau and Mélanie Joly invited me, along with five other women, to a round table where we mainly talked about issues surrounding abortion. We also talked about the movie Unplanned. "

Mariane Labrecque presented the situation in New Brunswick, which, in her view, "contravenes the law and violates fundamental rights".

I told them that not paying for clinic service was a strategy to restrict abortion.

Mariane Labrecque, spokesperson for the Coalition for the Right to Abortion in Canada

The spokesperson also gave Justin Trudeau, whom she considers an ally to the cause, two petitions urging the federal government to guarantee funding for abortion at Clinic 554.

The progress

The New Brunswick Department of Health did not respond to our interview request. However, Alysha Elliott, Communications Officer at the Ministry, indicated by e-mail that "in the last three or four years" measures had been taken to provide increased access to abortion.

It is true that efforts have been made to promote greater accessibility to this service, under the provincial Liberal government of Brian Gallant. The latter, among other things, repealed the regulation which required that two doctors approve abortion before a woman can obtain service in a hospital environment, and thus be covered by health insurance.

New Brunswick was also the first province to repay, in 2017, pharmacological abortions (abortion pill Mifegymiso), a type of abortion that is increasingly practiced in New Brunswick. During fiscal year 2017-2018, 293 women used it in hospitals. This figure jumped to 475 in 2018-2019.

After these few advances, Brian Gallant did not continue his drive to promote increased accessibility of abortion.

Progressive Conservative Party leader Blaine Higgs, whose party has been in power since last November, has not announced plans to provide better access to abortion.

Right now, we think the (New Brunswick) government is not interested in women who need an abortion.

Allison Webster, New Brunswick Reproductive Justice

"The Minister of Health is not responding to our calls or letters. It's as if they do not know we exist and we need more help, "says Allison Webster, counselor at Clinic 554 and spokesperson for New Brunswick Reproductive Justice.

"Many pro-life people in New Brunswick"

Elizabeth Crouchman, spokesperson for the organization Right to Life, claims that the two main provincial parties have pro-life politicians in their ranks.

"We invite all politicians to participate in our events, regardless of their party. If they wish, they can join us, "she says.

It's not at all a coincidence that their organization's offices are in the building next to Clinic 554. Elizabeth Crouchman does not hide the fact that Right to Life chose this location to be close to the only clinic to practice. abortion in New Brunswick. Mme Crouchman lived one hour and a half from Fredericton, in Hampton.

"There are a lot of pro-life people in New Brunswick," says this former nurse, a mother of four.


Elizabeth Crouchman, spokesperson for Right to Life

With her group, which she considers "very peaceful", Mme Crouchman organizes conferences, walks and other activities to "provide accurate information" on the development of the embryo and fetus, as well as on abortion.

The Right to Life spokesperson would like to see a new debate on the right to abortion in Canada, but she thinks it's a waste of time.

"If we had a strong pro-life politician in Canada, it would be destroyed by the media. The media would cling to that, as if it was the most important thing. No matter how many jobs this politician could create or the number of roads he would repair, he would be punished for not wanting to let women choose, "she says.

She concludes, "I imagine that the Lord himself will come back to ban abortion … That's the only way it could happen. "

The pastor who brought Unplanned in Canada


The pastor of Fredericton's Word of Faith Church, BJ McKelvie, is also head of Cinedicom, which distributes the film Unplanned in Canada.

It's a coincidence, but for the people at Clinic 554, it's also a sign of the times. On July 12th, the controversial film Unplanned took place in Canada the same day as the fundraising evening for the only clinic to conduct voluntary abortions in New Brunswick. And it was a pastor from the provincial capital, BJ McKelvie, who bet on showing the film across the country.

"I think there are 500 churches in our city," says BJ McKelvie, welcoming us to Word of Faith Church. In this place of worship located about twenty kilometers from Clinic 554, he celebrates mass especially for children with autism, including his son.

Except that since the death of his father, in 2017, BJ McKelvie much more often wears the hat of entrepreneur than the pastoral stole: he took over the reins of the family business Cinedicom, which has been distributing films for 61 years.

It was last spring, when the controversy surrounding the film Unplanned was raging in the United States, that he heard that the film was banned in Canada, which is false. God, he says, then asks him to distribute this feature film himself. "When I told my wife that we should try to do it, she told me that I had gone mad," said the pastor's "pro-life" pastor, who finally completed the project.

I would not have done it for free … it was a good business opportunity.

BJ McKelvie, pastor and president of Cinedicom, about the distribution ofUnplanned

Against all odds, the film produced by the American Christian studio Pure Flix has raised more than $ 650,000 at the Canadian box office in one week on 49 screens. And it is expected thatUnplanned "In some rooms for at least seven weeks," says BJ McKelvie.

Last week, protests took place in front of a few cinemas that were showing the film across Canada. There were also calls for boycotts of cinemas that showed him, including Guzzo and Cineplex. The film also received a lot of negative reviews in the media. But at the same time, the pastor says, people have rented entire movie theaters for private screenings: "A man bought 1300 tickets to broadcast the film on four screens in Vernon, British Columbia," BJ McKelvie quotes. for exemple.


The Word of Faith Church in Fredericton, New Brunswick

"No choice" to reopen the debate

The pastor also received a lot of emails thanking him for his initiative. Among them is Joan Armstrong, who recounts that at the end of a session in Winnipeg, where the hall was full, a man invited people to "pray for life", a moment that the spectator described as "very touching".

"We have never really seen Canada react so strongly for a film," says the pastor, visibly still amazed by all the reactions that the broadcast of this feature has provoked.

I do not think we really had the big discussion we should have in this country about the right to abortion.

BJ McKelvie, Pastor and President of Cinedicom

BJ McKelvie would like politicians, including Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer, to stop acting as if the debate were closed.

"If Andrew Scheer is elected, he will not have the choice to reopen the debate, since five or six members of his caucus are obviously pro-life," says the pastor.

Certainly, the experience Unplanned made him want to distribute other films from the American Christian studio Pure Flix. And, he assures, he will not do it solely out of Christian charity.

Abortion in Canada in five dates

Dominique Talbot
Dominique Talbot
The Press

The debate about abortion in Canada is far from new. It goes back to the XIXe century. Here are the most important moments.


The Parliament of Canada adopts the country's first Criminal Code. To have an abortion is punishable by seven years' imprisonment. The Code provides for life imprisonment for those who practice abortion. The sale, distribution and promotion of contraceptives are also criminalized.


The government of Pierre Elliott Trudeau opens a gap in the law and allows therapeutic abortion, if a committee of three doctors judges that the physical and mental health of the woman is compromised. Contraceptive products are also decriminalized.

The same year, the activist doctor for the right of women to abortion Henry Morgentaler opens a clinic in Montreal that specializes in this practice. It will be stopped for the first time in 1970. This is the beginning of a long legal battle that will last nearly 20 years.


The Dr Henry Morgentaler celebrates the historic judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada decriminalizing abortion in January 1988.


In a landmark judgment (Morgentaler), the Supreme Court of Canada decriminalizes abortion. Judges believe that the law in force interferes in particular with the right to safety and the right to physical integrity of women, protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, the Court does not decide whether the fetus has rights.


The summer of 1989 was marked by the cause between Chantal Daigle and her ex-husband Jean-Guy Tremblay. The case raises the passions in Quebec and has an international impact. Relying on the right of the fetus, Tremblay tries to prevent the 21-year-old from having an abortion. On July 17, the Superior Court banned Mme Daigle to end her pregnancy. A little later, on the 27th, the Court of Appeal upheld the decision. The case goes to the Supreme Court in record time.

At the end of the month, 21 weeks pregnant, the young woman has a secret abortion in the United States. Although the case is now devoid of purpose, since the fetus no longer exists, the judges of the highest court of the country pronounce a unanimous judgment in which they state that the fetus has no legal personality and that the f has no right to prevent abortion.


The Quebec Superior Court requires that all voluntary abortions be covered by the Régie de l'assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ), whether they take place in the public system or in a private clinic.

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