Court of Queen’s Bench Associate Chief Justice Jeffrey Oliphant has told the Manitoba government its refusal to cover the costs of abortions at private facilities is a “gross violation” of women’s rights.
In a class-action suit filed in 2001, two women who had undergone abortions at Winnipeg’s Morgentaler Clinic (now Jane’s clinic) claimed that having to pay for the procedure themselves violated their Charter rights. The pair alleged that they had opted for a private abortion after being told they would have to wait four to eight weeks for a taxpayer-funded hospital abortion. Justice Oliphant agreed with them that this was indefensible.
He ruled the province must pay for all so-called medically necessary abortions and that women who paid for such abortions on their own in the past should be able to obtain refunds. Earlier this year – after the woman obtained their abortions – Manitoba changed its policy that previously allowed funding only in cases where such abortions occurred in a public hospital.
Critics worry that the decision will open the door to thousands of Manitoba women who paid for their own abortions and will try to get their money back.
NDP Health Minister Tim Sale said his government has not yet decided if it will appeal the ruling. He told the Winnipeg Free Press Justice Oliphant’s decision conflicts with Supreme Court rulings “which seem to affirm provincial rights to allocate health resources as long as the tests of the Canada Health Act are met.”
Winnipeg Sun columnist Tom Brodbeck reacted to the decision, wondering what will judges direct the government to fund next: “Are judges going to tell governments that they must pay for sex-change operations? Nose jobs? What about tummy tucks?” Brodbeck then made a serious constitutional point: “Whether or not government should fund a private clinic is entirely a political matter, not a rights issue.”