Acting on a threat he has made for years, Henry Morgentaler has launched a lawsuit which, if successful, will force the province of New Brunswick to pay for abortions at his Fredericton abortuary.

The suit has national implications according to Peter Ryan, executive director of New Brunswick Right to Life. “It could mean a new Charter ‘right’ to abortion on demand, as well as a Canada Health Act obligation on all provinces to fund them,” explained Ryan, who is also president of Campaign Life Coalition New Brunswick.

Morgentaler accuses New Brunswick of contravening the Canada Health Act and “violating the spirit of the Morgentaler decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, which was rendered 15 years ago.” He claims that decision gave women an unfettered right to abortion. According to The New Freeman, he anticipates spending up to $1 million on the lawsuit.

“What goes on at Morgentaler clinics is abortion on demand,” says Ryan. “That is an elective, rather than a medically necessary, procedure. Currently, there is no Charter right to elective abortion. Further, the Canada Health Act does not require funding of any electives, including abortion on demand.”

But, he argues, abortion on demand violates a child’s Charter right to life. “The courts have never ruled on whether Section 7’s enunciation that everyone has a right to life applies to children before birth. There is no reason for New Brunswick courts to deny that the province’s unborn are entitled to Charter protection,” he says.

Morgentaler’s Fredericton abortuary kills children up to 16 weeks’ gestation. At that stage, the fully formed baby is almost nine inches long. She can grasp objects, has facial expressions similar to those of her parents, swallows, sleeps, wakes and apparently dreams. The Fredericton abortuary opened in 1994. Last year, it did 369 abortions at a price of $500-750 each.

New Brunswick has always refused to fund Morgentaler’s Fredericton operations. It does pay for abortions in three designated hospitals (about 580 last year) during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, provided two medical practitioners certify in writing that they are medically required. Morgentaler calls that policy illegal, unconstitutional, sexist and oppressive. “No other province puts that many restrictions in the path of women needing abortions,” he said. The B.C. Catholic states that his seven clinics reap a gross revenue of about $11 million a year.

While he we would like all Canadians to provide that money through their taxes, many Canadians are repulsed by the thought of becoming accomplices by funding his activities. “There was no groundswell (in the recent election campaign) to have abortions paid for using taxpayers’ money,” the Fredericton Daily Gleaner editorialized. “We should not be giving public money to (Morgentaler’s) private business.”

The Progressive Conservative government has stood firm. Premier Bernard Lord said, “I don’t think one person came to me and told me there was a need for more abortion services in the province… in fact, some people told me just the opposite.” Justice Minister Brad Green said, “The province will go as far as necessary to defend (its) position (even if) that means the Supreme Court of Canada.”

The Gleaner strongly supports the province’s stand and goes even farther. It expresses the concern of many Canadians that the balance of power has shifted from Parliament and legislatures to the courts, allowing judges – who are appointees – to force changes on governments. “Judges should not be taking decision-making away from our elected legislators,” the paper declared.

New Brunswick Right to Life will be applying to the court to intervene in the case.

Other interested groups may join them or intervene separately. “In our application, we have to supply affidavits of all the witnesses we want to use; for example, women who have had abortions, experts who have studied post-abortion effects. There will then be a hearing to consider the submission (which Morgentaler can oppose, and the court can reject),” explains Ryan.

“Overall,” he adds, “preparing for the hearing and participating in the trial will likely be a fairly lengthy process. I hope the pro-life movement across Canada will help us through prayer and financial aid.”