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Rona Ambrose urged by federal Liberals to review New Brunswick abortion rules

FREDERICTON - Three Liberal MPs say they believe regulations governing abortion access in New Brunswick may contravene the accessibility principle of the Canada Health Act and they've asked federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose to intervene.

Hedy Fry, Dominic LeBlanc and Carolyn Bennett have sent a letter to Ambrose asking her to invoke a dispute and resolution process in order to resolve the issue.

They say the province's refusal to fund the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton, which is planning to close at the end of July, may not be in line with the federal Health Act. The law requires provinces to provide access to medically necessary services regardless of where they live or their ability to pay.

The source of contention is Regulation 84-20, which requires women who want publicly funded abortions to have them done by specialists at two approved hospitals and only after they get approval from two doctors certifying that it is medically necessary.

Fry, the Liberal health critic, said women in New Brunswick seeking abortions face a waiting list of two weeks and that will be longer once the Morgentaler Clinic closes.

"That waiting has put women's lives and ability to get access to termination of pregnancy in jeopardy," Fry said in an interview from Ottawa.

"Women who find themselves on that list and can't get it soon enough may have to go to another province to have access."

Fry said many women can't afford the costs of travelling to another province to have the procedure done.

"And if you are denied the ability to have timely, quality access to a service, then obviously that province is contravening the Canada Health Act," she said.

A spokesman for Ambrose said she was not available for an interview Wednesday, but in a statement she said the provision of health services is a provincial and territorial responsibility.

"We respect New Brunswick's jurisdictional authority to make these policy and funding decisions," Ambrose said.

"If citizens of New Brunswick are concerned they must contact their provincial government responsible for making these decisions."

Premier David Alward defended his province's policy last month, saying it gives women adequate access to abortion.

The province's Health Department has repeatedly declined further comment on the issue, citing as its rationale a lawsuit that Dr. Henry Morgentaler filed against the New Brunswick government. That court action was launched in an effort to force the province to pay for abortions at clinics.

Last month, the manager of the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton said the lawsuit would be dropped as a result of a lack of funds and Morgentaler's death last May. As of Wednesday, it was still before the courts.

Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has taken a strong stance in favour of abortion rights, requiring potential candidates for his party to support its position in any vote on the issue in the House of Commons.

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