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National group launches legal action to increase abortion access in New Brunswick

FREDERICTON — A national civil liberties group is launching a legal action against New Brunswick in order to increase abortion access in the province.

FREDERICTON — A national civil liberties group is launching a legal action against New Brunswick in order to increase abortion access in the province.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association filed a statement of claim with the Court of Queen's Bench on Wednesday, asking for a judge to declare a section of New Brunswick law unconstitutional.

Regulation 84-20 of the Medical Services Payment Act prohibits government subsidies for abortions conducted outside an approved hospital.

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, CCLA's equality program director, said, "Women's choices about their bodies do not need to be regulated.

"It is the regulation of women, girls and trans individuals' bodies through regulation 84-20 that is the problem," she told a virtual news conference Thursday.

The group says the regulation is inconsistent with and in violation of the Canada Health Act. "Unfortunately the government of New Brunswick has been fighting against the equality and reproductive freedom of women, girls and trans people for decades," Mendelsohn Aviv said.

New Brunswick's government subsidizes abortions at two hospitals in Moncton and one in Bathurst, but won't cover the cost of the procedure at a private clinic.

"By restricting abortion access in this way, the province is violating women's, girls' and trans peoples' fundamental right to make their own choices, their right to privacy, to safety, and of course, the right to equality. Today we are marking the beginning of the end," she said.

The statement of claim says it has been over 30 years since the Supreme Court of Canada's landmark ruling in R. v. Morgentaler, which declared the criminal prohibition on abortion was a violation of Constitutional rights.

"However, abortion remains inaccessible in New Brunswick, particularly to those living in rural areas of the province and to the vulnerable facing personal hardships like poverty and domestic violence," it states.

Fredericton's Clinic 554 has threatened to close a number of times in recent years but is still providing abortions. Dr. Adrian Edgar, the clinic's medical director, would not say Thursday how many abortions are conducted there. The clinic's services are funded almost exclusively by public donations.

"I'm both saddened and thankful by today's announcement," Edgar told the news conference. "Thankful to the CCLA for defending the charter rights of New Brunswickers and saddened to live in a province with a government that would suppress them."

Mendelsohn Aviv said the government has an opportunity to resolve the issue without going to court, but she said she expects there will be a prolonged legal fight.

"It seems they are making it fairly clear they want to fight us at every turn and on every front," she said. "We hope this is not the case but in the same way, activists have been hoping for a long time the government will do what is right for women and girls and trans folks in the province."

When reached for comment Thursday, a government spokesman said the province doesn't comment on legal matters.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 7, 2021.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press