Civil liberties group launches lawsuit against N.B. government over abortion access

    Clinic 554 in Fredericton closed in October because of the provincial government’s refusal to repeal Regulation 84-20. (Aaron Sousa/AQ)

    A Canadian civil liberties group filed a lawsuit yesterday towards the New Brunswick government for their unwillingness to fund abortions done in private clinics.

    Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, the equality director at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said the association has been in touch with Clinic 554 in Fredericton for months with local advocates.

    “I think that any attempt to control abortion access is ultimately an attempt to control women,” said Mendelsohn Aviv. “It’s an attempt to control the bodies and the choices of women, girls and trans people.”

    In September, a string of protests in Fredericton happened leading up to and after the closure of Clinic 554, a private abortion clinic in Fredericton providing that provides resources besides abortions, including hormone replacement therapy and pelvic and chest exams.

    New Brunswick is the only province in Canada that doesn’t fund out-of-hospital abortions. The clinic closed in October because of the government’s refusal to repeal Regulation 84-20, which states that public insurance Medicare will not cover abortions done out-of-hospital.

    Clinic 554 couldn’t continue to absorb the costs of abortions that patients couldn’t pay for.

    There are only three approved hospitals in New Brunswick that perform surgical abortions. One hospital in Bathurst and two in Moncton provide these services.

    “When you have restrictions on abortion access, the way they are currently in New Brunswick, you have a situation in which somebody who has to travel a long distance to get an abortion may have to give up their privacy around it,” said Mendelsohn Aviv.

    She said this could include the need to expose reasons for time off work, delaying the abortion because of arranging travel to the facility and giving up private healthcare information to family members.

    The CCLA has been advocating for reproductive rights and women’s rights for decades, she said. They were involved in the Morgentaler case in 1975.

    Mendelsohn Aviv said the CCLA sent their demand letter in October and at that point they had their litigation team ready to go.

    “We were also in touch with the local activists about various efforts that they were making to negotiate and to demand the government that they repeal that problematic provision in the regulation,” she said.

    The CCLA’s pro bono litigation team for the case is Andrew Bernstein, Gillian Dingle and Emily Sherkey of Torys LLP and advisor Kerri Froc from University of New Brunswick Law.

    Mendelsohn Aviv said the final decision to launch the lawsuit came when the CCLA realized that the government was not going to repeal the regulation without legal action.

    It could take months before a trial takes place, she said, which is why the CCLA continues to say the government should “just do the right thing.”

    “When it comes to many forms of health care, and certainly including abortion, delay is not an option,” she said.

    “Every day or every week counts.”