Premier Brian Gallant is removing a key regulation that has restricted access to abortion services in New Brunswick for two decades.
Gallant made the announcement at a news conference Wednesday morning in Fredericton.
The premier promised in the election campaign to review Regulation 84-20, which requires women seeking a hospital abortion to have two doctors certify it as medically necessary.The review identified barriers to abortion services, according to Gallant.
It also requires the procedure to be done only by a specialist, whereas other provinces allow family doctors to perform abortions.
The so-called two-doctor rule has been in place for two decades, supported by previous Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments.
“Identifying those barriers was an important step towards eliminating them,” Gallant said in a statement.
Gallant said the new regulation will no longer require two physicians to certify the procedure is medically necessary, effective on Jan. 1.
This will put reproductive health procedures in the same category as any insured medical procedure, according to the government.
"We have identified the barriers and are proceeding to eliminate them in order to respect our legal obligations under the Supreme Court of Canada ruling and the Canada Health Act regarding a woman’s right to choose,” Gallant said in the statement.
Abortions will need to be performed in hospitals
Non-specialists will be able to perform the procedure under the new rules, but all of the procedures will have to be done in hospitals.
When asked by reporters if Gallant considered Wednesday's announcement historic, the premier said his government was moving forward with the reforms because they were right, not because they might be historic.
The Liberal cabinet has approved the regulatory changes "by consensus" at a meeting last week. Gallant wouldn't say whether the reforms were unanimous in cabinet.
A vote in the legislature is not required for the changes to come into force because the rules were all contained in regulations.
Gallant said the Department of Health will work with the province's two regional health authorities to increase capacity and improve timeliness to access to abortion services.
As well, the provincial government will "improve access to accurate and non-judgmental information."
“As a province, we have a responsibility to respect women’s rights and our legal obligations by providing this procedure in a safe environment like any other insured service under Medicare,” said Gallant in a statement.
Abortion became a major political issue earlier this year when the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton announced it would close in July. The clinic said it couldn’t continue to perform abortions without provincial funding.
Shortly after winning the Sept. 22 election, Gallant said he would convene a group of experts, either those inside the government and perhaps some from outside, to identify the barriers to abortion.
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