Vitalité disputes a claim made in CCLA abortion-access lawsuit

·3 min read
Vitalité disputes a claim made in CCLA abortion-access lawsuit

The Vitalité Health Network is disputing one of the claims about abortion access in a lawsuit filed by a national civil liberties organization.

Vitalité vice-president Stéphane Legacy says the Canadian Civil Liberties Association is wrong to claim that abortion services at the Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst are only available to women in the local area.

The association filed the constitutional challenge to Regulation 84-20 in Court of Queen's Bench in Fredericton this week, asking the court to strike down the inclusion of non-hospital abortions on a list of services not funded by Medicare.

The association is arguing that existing access to publicly funded abortions in three hospitals, two in Moncton and one in Bathurst, violates both the Canada Health Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"The hospital in Bathurst only accepts patients from the Bathurst area," the association argues in its statement claim.

"That means for all other residents, their only option for accessing a Medicare-funded abortion is to travel to Moncton, in the southeastern part of the province."

Not true, said Legacy.

"This statement is inaccurate," he said in an emailed statement.

"Abortion services offered at the Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst are not limited to residents of this region. All New Brunswick women, regardless of where they live, can access abortion services at the Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst if they wish to do so."

Two sources for information

The CCLA says it got the information from two sources.

One is a seven-page PDF from 2015, posted to the digital publishing site Yumbu, that lists abortion clinics across Canada. It says "only Bathurst-area women are accepted" at the clinic at the Chaleur Regional Hospital.

The other is an online research project by a journalism student that says "this clinic only accepts patients from the immediate area."

The site wrongly states that Horizon Health operates the Bathurst clinic.

A video guide to finding abortion services in New Brunswick made by social work students at St. Thomas University and posted in 2016 by Reproductive Justice New Brunswick also makes the claim.

Jessi Taylor of Reproductive Justice said she wasn't able to track down the source of the information on Friday, but she and the CCLA both said it may have been accurate at the time it was posted.

"It is possible that the information could be dated, or inaccurate based on your latest inquiry," said CCLA spokesperson Alex Nanoff. "In any case, the legal team will be following up."

Vitalité CEO France Desrosiers said the service was never limited to local patients.

"This publicly funded service has always been available to all New Brunswick women," she said in a statement. The health authority would not comment further on the lawsuit.

The CCLA's director of equality programs, Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, said if the court filing's assertion is an error, it doesn't change the fact that women across the province don't have equal access to the service.

"Either way, it does not save an unconstitutional, discriminatory regulation, and that is what we are determined to focus on and to fight."

Regulation 84-20 includes surgical abortions outside hospitals on a list of services that cannot be funded by Medicare.

That means Fredericton's private Clinic 554 can't bill the province for the procedure.

The association pointed this week to recent cuts to inter-city bus routes by Maritime Bus as another example of how some women would find it difficult to travel to Bathurst or Moncton for the service.

Last year Premier Blaine Higgs said he was confident the existing access complies with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canada Health Act, and he invited anyone who disagreed to sue the province.