FREDERICTON -- The premier of New Brunswick says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is playing politics with the issue of abortion services in the province.
The comments from Blaine Higgs Wednesday came a day after Trudeau promised that a re-elected Liberal government would come to the rescue of an abortion clinic in Fredericton. Clinic 554 says it could be forced to shut down without provincial funding.
Trudeau said his government would use "all tools at our disposal" to ensure women in the province have access to abortions.
Higgs said New Brunswick provides abortion services at hospitals in Bathurst and Moncton but does not fund private clinics -- as was the case under the previous Liberal government of Brian Gallant.
"All the tools that (Trudeau) talks about are the tools he's had for the last four years, and the decision that was made here in New Brunswick was made four years ago," Higgs said. "It's an empty statement that is typical of an election process that someone generates to maybe deflect from other issues that they'd just as soon not talk about."
The premier said his government will make decisions "based on the facts and requirements and not based on some political pressure, especially coming from a federal prime minister that's trying to find any way possible to get a vote."
Campaigning Tuesday in Fredericton, Trudeau took direct aim at Higgs on the abortion issue.
"A Liberal government will always defend women's rights, including when challenged by Conservative premiers," he said.
Trudeau said if re-elected he would sit down with Higgs to remind him his province has an obligation to fund out-of-hospital abortions -- and of the fact that Ottawa has the power to enforce such requirements under the Canada Health Act.
Measures could include holding back the funding that Ottawa transfers to the province to pay for its health-care system, but using federal dollars to keep the clinic open could be another way to resolve the issue.
Higgs said the Canada Health Act is clear, questioning whether Trudeau is plans to make changes to it.
The previous Liberal government in New Brunswick removed a regulation that required a woman seeking a hospital abortion to have two doctors certify it as medically necessary, but it did not remove the regulation limiting funding to abortions performed in hospitals.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 16, 2019.