Peter Ryan, executive director of Right to Life New Brunswick. Register file photo

N.B. pro-lifers demand vote on abortion

  • December 9, 2014

Members of Right to Life New Brunswick are demanding a vote in the provincial legislature on the Liberal government’s plans to make it easier to procure an abortion in the province.

About 45 members of the group braved a severe storm that hit Fredericton Dec. 3 to voice their displeasure with the change coming to the Maritime province where beginning in the new year abortion access will be easier to attain.

The protesters, who gathered at the legislature during the first sitting of the government since Premier Brian Gallant was elected with a narrow majority on Sept. 22, seek to prevent that change.

“We were able to speak to (Conservative) members of the legislature,” including the opposition leader David Alward, said Peter Ryan, Right to Life’s executive director. “We encouraged them to raise the issue. A big part of my sales pitch was to really strongly urge that the members of the legislature raise the matter as a vote during the sitting which is likely to conclude on Dec. 19.”

Although Ryan said opposition members resonated “sympathy,” they “haven’t committed” to pressuring for a reversal of the abortion policy changes.

What makes the pro-lifers nervous is that the Premier has no requirement to put the regulation to a vote.

“They are speeding it through with the power that they have likely so they can move on to other things,” he said, “(but) it should be voted upon. There are enough people in his caucus who are not pro-choice that if that matter comes to a vote it could be quite ticklish.”

Although leaving them unnamed, Ryan said he knows of two or three provincial Liberals with pro-life sympathies.

During his campaign Gallant “willingly made abortion an election issue,” said Ryan, by promising to review the provincial  abortion policies — Regulation 84-20 of the Medical Services Payment Act — following the closure of the Morgentaler Clinic, the province’s only private abortion service.

Although it was implied that Gallant meant to ease access to abortions in New Brunswick, how exactly he would do that did not come out until Nov. 26 with a statement issued by his office that the Liberals will scrub the “two-doctor rule,” which requires signatures from two doctors who approve the procedure. Gallant also intends to remove the clause which requires doctors to hold an abortion specialist classification to perform the procedures. The changes are to come into effect Jan. 1, 2015.

Until then, “we’re going to (continue) to raise our voice, and we have, and we want people to act as citizens and raise up their voices too,” said Ryan. “We need to think about what these authorities are determining for us.”  

Even the province’s pro-choice supporters aren’t pleased with the government.

“Repealing 84-20 actually removes the need for two doctors to say it’s medically necessary, but it doesn’t remove the need for someone to refer you to get to the hospital,” Hannah Gray, a member of Reproductive Justice N.B., told the CBC.

“And it doesn’t guarantee that the hospital is going to have pro-choice policies.”

In other words, these changes won’t do enough to increase accessibility to abortions, believes Gray.

Ryan foresees the opposite and expects the province’s abortion rate to increase by about 1,000 abortions annually.

“If this policy goes through it is likely to double our abortion rate,” he said. “Our rate is about half of the national rate so if we remove all of our restrictions to start doing things the way things are done in other provinces it is going to have a pretty drastic effect on the abortion situation here. And it is a terrible irony that almost every economist that comes out with a sober analysis of why the New Brunswick economy is struggling so much ... diagnoses a key ingredient of our problem is our low birth rate.”

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