Students at the St. Thomas University School of Social Work launched an online petition urging the government of New Brunswick to fund abortions carried out at the Morgentaler abortion mill in Fredericton.

Their online petition, which had quickly garnered about 2000 signatures, complains that abortions are only funded if they are done in a hospital and approved by a pair of doctors. They say it violates the 1988 Supreme Court Morgentaler decision and the Canada Health Act.

The petition says more than 60 per cent of “NB women needing abortions are forced to pay out of pocket for abortion care at the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton, because hospital access is inadequate,” and that the costs for abortion at the private facility range from $700-$850, for procedures carried out up to 16 weeks gestation.

The social work students claim that New Brunswick’s abortion funding rules “discriminates” against poor women. Their petition concludes, “lets (sic) inform our apathetic government that they need to make women’s reproductive rights a priority!”

Conservative Health Minister Hugh Flemming told reporters, it’s “an issue that’s come and gone over the years,” adding when asked if the province would change course to fund abortion at both hospital and the Morgentaler abortion mill, “I don’t suspect so, at this time.”

Under New Brunswick health regulations, surgical procedures are covered by the provincial health plan when they are deemed “entitled services,” which abortions are not, in which case they are covered when two doctors determine they are medically necessary. The Morgentaler facility does not fulfill this requirement and thus the province does not fund abortions done there.

In 2004, then Paul Martin’s health minister, Ujjal Dosanjh, put pressure on the province to fund abortions in private facilities, initiating an official dispute resolution process to settle the funding issue, but his successor, Stephen Harper’s first health minister, Tony Clement, did not pursue the issue when the Conservatives replaced the Liberal government in 2006.

Peter Ryan of New Brunswick Right to Life said in an email to supporters, “this private abortion facility is the only one in Canada that gets not a nickel of public funds,” as he urged pro-lifers to sign the online petition at “Let’s help keep it that way.”

The anti-funding petition lists nine reasons to oppose taxpayer funding of the Morgentaler abortuary, including society’s responsibility to “protect the life of every child,” that “abortion on demand does not meet the legal test of ‘medical necessity’ required by Medicare,” and that “no law or court has established that a woman has a constitutional right to abortion on demand, or that a province has the legal duty to fund abortion on demand.”

In 2003, Henry Morgentaler launched a lawsuit against the province seeking full funding for his private abortuary, but the case has not come before the courts and was reported by the CBC to be in “limbo” last May following the abortionist’s death. It is possible that a substitute plaintiff could be named.

When The Interim went to press, the students’ petition had almost 2400 signatures, while the counter-petition had nearly 4,000 signatures.