Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during an announcement in Gatineau, Que., on Tuesday, July 6, 2021. Trudeau says his government is withholding millions of dollars in health-care transfers to New Brunswick because that province is limiting access to abortion services.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Trudeau says Ottawa withholding health-care transfers to N.B. over abortion access

MONCTON, N.B. — New Brunswick is failing to live up to its obligations under the Canada Health Act because it continues to make it difficult for women to access abortions, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday.

As a consequence, the federal government is withholding health-care transfers to the province, Trudeau told reporters in Moncton, N.B.

“Making sure that every woman across this country has access to reliable reproductive services is extremely important to us, and that’s why we’ve continued … to impress strongly upon the government of New Brunswick how it needs to keep up its obligations under the Canada Health Act,” Trudeau said.

The prime minister initially said Ottawa was holding back millions of dollars in health-care transfers to New Brunswick, but a spokesperson from the Prime Minister’s Office said after the news conference the correct figure is $140,216.

A representative from the office of New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs was not immediately available for comment.

New Brunswick law bans government funding for abortions conducted outside three approved hospitals. The provincial government subsidizes abortions at two hospitals in Moncton and one in Bathurst, but it won’t cover the cost of the procedure at Clinic 554 in Fredericton.

Trudeau said his government will work to ensure everyone in the country has access to abortion, including at Clinic 554.

A New Brunswick judge in June authorized a national civil liberties group to mount a legal challenge to the province’s abortion law. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association says the law limits access to abortions, particularly for poor and marginalized people.

New Brunswick’s government had opposed the association’s bid for standing, arguing the group didn’t have a specific connection to the province.

Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Tracey DeWare, however, said that stance was “unreasonable,” and she wrote in her ruling, “with all due respect to the position of the (province), it is without merit and given the jurisprudence directly on point, surprising.”