Like the groundhog, Henry Morgentaler has surfaced again with his perennial campaign to establish government-funded abortuaries – his abortuaries – in every province.
He has written a letter to new federal Health Minister Anne McLellan pointing out that five provincial governments – P.E.I., Manitoba, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia – refuse to pay for clinic abortions.
As always, he argues that they are endangering the health of women, discriminating against them, and depriving them of their rights under the Canada Health Act.
“This disregard for women is scandalous. Why shouldn’t women in Prince Edward Island have the same rights as women in Ontario or Alberta?” he says. “There is absolutely no reason for that and the provincial governments are at fault.”
He always makes the unverified claim that “hundreds” of Island women go to Fredericton or Halifax clinics annually to obtain his dubious services. This time, he informed a reporter for the Charlottetown Guardian that the number was 200 – hardly financial justification for establishing and staffing a clinic anywhere.
About six years ago, Diane Marleau, then Minister of Health, threatened non-compliant provinces with stiff penalties via federal transfer payment reductions. Alberta and Newfoundland started paying for abortions committed at private facilities under medicare. “Unfortunately,” Morgentaler told the Guardian, “she never got to complete her task.”
Neither did her successor, Allan Rock. “(He) was afraid to put pressure on the provincial ministers of health, possibly due to the fact that he’s in a leadership campaign,” Morgentaler said, conveniently forgetting the much-publicized dispute between New Brunswick and the federal government over this very issue in early 2000.
“I hope that you will be more sensitive to the plight of women needing abortion services and take appropriate action to force recalcitrant provincial governments to ensure that women needing abortion services will be able to receive them,” Morgentaler wrote to McLellan.
In his early campaigns, Morgentaler spoke of abortion as a medical necessity. Now he says funding and ready access should be available should women need or want an abortion. This fits with last fall’s public acknowledgment by the Canadian Rights Abortion League that most abortions are committed for socio-economic reasons, not for medical necessity.
P.E.I. has repeatedly rebuffed Morgentaler’s approaches – most notably in 1986 when Islanders overwhelmingly voted against in-hospital abortions.
Bernard Connolly, vice- president of P.E.I. Right to Life, says, “Morgentaler knows Islanders don’t want his services. We think he is just throwing down a gauntlet, testing the new health minister. Of course we are concerned about his latest move, and interested in Health Minister McLellan’s response.”
Provincial Health Minister Jamie Ballem told The Interim, “We have no intention of paying Dr. Morgentaler anything. Our practice is to provide payment for abortions that are determined medically necessary by two doctors, if they are provided in a recognized facility (i.e., a hospital), as we do for a number of other medical treatments.” According to a 1995 provincial Supreme Court decision, this meets the requirements of the Canada Health Act.
Ballem adds, “If Health Canada wants to push the issue, we’ll deal with it at that time.”
Noting that education is the proper role of Right to Life, Connolly says, “We will soon be having our annual meeting with our members of Parliament and members of the Legislative Assembly, for updating and providing information.”