FREDERICTON - The politically charged issue of abortion in New Brunswick arrived at the doorstep of the province's legislature Thursday as hundreds of pro-choice supporters called on the government to fund the procedure at private clinics.
Many of them jeered New Brunswick's minister responsible for women's equality and the Opposition leader as both tried to earn the support of the protesters.
The demonstrators called on the government to repeal Regulation 84-20, which requires abortions to be performed by specialists at approved hospitals and only after a woman gets approval from two doctors certifying that it is medically necessary.
Amber Basque, a 21-year-old student from Bathurst, N.B., said the regulation and the impending closure of the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton will put women at risk.
"It's foolish," Basque said of the regulation.
Sorcha Bierne, co-ordinator of the Fredericton Youth Feminists, said the regulation tramples on women's rights.
"We need to start following federal law," she said.
Some of the protesters held coat hangers in a graphic reminder of the dangers of self-induced abortions.
The protest follows the announcement last week that the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton will close at the end of July, saying it can't continue without government funding.
Liberal Opposition Leader Brian Gallant addressed the rally and was cheered when he said he was pro-choice and will work to get rid of Regulation 84-20.
But he was jeered when he said he was calling for a panel to review the regulation.
"I'm trying to extend my hand to the premier to co-operate and support a review," Gallant said, which triggered chants of "Not enough" and "No more studies."
The crowd also booed Marie-Claude Blais, the minister responsible for women's equality, when she told the protesters she would take their concerns to the government.
Earlier in the day, Premier David Alward defended the regulation and the government's position.
"We do not fund private clinics and there is access provided in two hospitals in our province," he said while in Sussex.
Alward said he couldn't discuss the abortion issue further because of Dr. Henry Morgentaler's lawsuit against the province over its refusal to pay for abortions at clinics.
The case was launched in 2002. But earlier this week, Simone Leibovitch, the manager of the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton, said their lawyer has been instructed to discontinue the case, citing Morgentaler's death last May and a lack of funds to continue the court battle.
Attorney General Hugh Flemming said Thursday that until he's notified that the case has been terminated, the government won't have more to say.
Leibovitch said she did not organize the rally Thursday but was pleased with the turnout, adding that she hopes it sent a message to the government.
"I hope people start listening in this province, that government starts listening, that they stop discriminating against women who don't have access to safe and legal abortions," she said.
The executive director of the New Brunswick Right to Life Association has expressed skepticism about the clinic's announcements that it is closing and dropping the lawsuit.
Peter Ryan said he believes the clinic may be trying to drum up support and funding.
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