Henry Morgentaler, Canada’s most notorious abortionist, is threatening to go to court again. This time, he says he’ll sue New Brunswick, and possibly Nova Scotia, for refusing to fund abortion procedures at his private abortuaries in those provinces, claiming the Canada Health Act requires that the provinces ante up.
Morgentaler is a familiar face in the halls of justice. Throughout the 1980s, he was the target of prosecution for repeatedly operating illegal abortuaries in Ontario. Eventually, in 1988, one of his cases made its way to the Supreme Court and the justices there ruled that Canada’s abortion law was unconstitutional. The court also urged Parliament to re-write the abortions laws.
Since then, citing a putative “right” to abortion, Morgentaler has attempted to use the courts to force reticent provinces to allow him to open for-profit abortuaries, and to provide funding for those facilities. Of course, the 1988 Morgentaler decision created no such right to abortion, but that hasn’t stopped the infamous doctor and his comrades from saying so. Commenting to the Globe and Mail on his latest legal initiative, Morgentaler claimed, “I have made it my goal to bring ‘reproductive freedom’ to the women of Canada. We thought the battle was over when the Supreme Court of Canada legalized abortion, but some provinces have blatantly defied the law.”
The Canada Health Act that Morgentaler suggests the two Maritime provinces are violating, requires provincial governments to cover “medically necessary” services. Yet, it is the provinces themselves, in conjunction with their colleges of physicians and surgeons, that decide which services are to be deemed medically necessary and therefore taxpayer supported.
In fact, abortions are not medically necessary, as Saskatchewan MP Garry Breitkreuz (Canadian Alliance, Yorkton-Melville) determined through correspondence with then-federal health minister Allan Rock’s office on March 8, 2001. In an official response to an Access to Information request, Rock’s office admitted it had no research or information of any kind to demonstrate that abortion is ever medically necessary.
Nevertheless, last year’s admission of fact did not prevent current Health Minister Anne McLellan from engaging in political rhetoric with the Fredericton Gleaner in early October, when she said, “Our view is that obviously abortion is a medically necessary service, therefore it has to be insured whether it is performed in a hospital or a private clinic.”
Breitkreuz will be challenging McLellan to back up her statement in the coming weeks. However, as all the medical and scientific evidence indicates otherwise, it seems unlikely Ms. McLellan will be able to defend herself.
Even Morgentaler’s allies at the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League admitted as much in testimony before the House of Commons Finance Committee last fall. Marilyn Wilson, CARAL’s executive director, told the committee, “Women who make the decision to abort a child at a certain point in their lives do so for socio-economic reasons.” Wilson also stated, “According to Statistics Canada, therapeutic (sic) abortions are most common among women in their 20s. These women accounted for half of all women who obtained an abortion in 1998. The major reason for terminating an unintended pregnancy through abortion in this age group is because of failed contraception.”
Given these facts, it appears Morgentaler’s suit is not about rights, or medical necessity, but purely about profits for his abortuaries. While some women are willing to pay several hundred dollars out of pocket to use his services, clearly many more women will use the abortuaries if taxpayers pick up the tab.
Peter Ryan, president of Campaign Life in New Brunswick told The Interim, “It is important for us to stand up to Morgentaler and the federal government. They are picking on New Brunswick because of our traditional pro-life culture. We have a religious culture: stronger in faith practices and beliefs.” As a result, “Our polling shows there is two-to-one support in New Brunswick against public funding of abortion clinics.”
Campaign Life New Brunswick will be applying for intervenor status if the Morgentaler suit goes forward. “We can’t count on the provincial government making the right arguments in defence of not funding the clinic,” said Ryan.
The medicare double standard on abortion
The federal Liberals are always quick to condemn private, for-profit medical clinics as “immoral” for creating a “two-tier” system. Always, that is, unless the private clinic happens to offer abortions.
Consider Health Minister Anne McLellan’s words to the Fredericton Gleaner Oct. 3, “Our view is that obviously abortion is a medically necessary service, therefore it has to be insured whether it is performed in a hospital or a private clinic,” she insisted. Further, she claimed, “My officials are in ongoing negotiations with (New Brunswick) and we will continue to work with the province and, where it is appropriate, to withhold transfer payments.”
The demand that New Brunswick fund for-profit medical clinics stands in sharp contrast to the action the federal Liberals took against Alberta in the mid-1990s, when it withheld transfer payments because the province was funding for-profit medical clinics, including the Gimbel eye clinic.
Official Opposition Health Critic, Alberta MP Rob Merrifield (Yellowhead) told The Interim, “The Minister has picked abortion out of a list of possible services and said it must be medically necessary. She’s trying to drive a political agenda.”
Merrifield believes that for-profit clinics should be able to qualify for government funding, provided they are delivering medically necessary services. “The Gimbel clinic reduced demand on the public hospitals and allowed more people to get their surgery sooner,” said Merrifield. “Canadians are concerned that medically necessary services are provided. They are not concerned whether they are provided publicly or privately.”