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Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau joins NB Liberal Leader Brian Gallant on the campaign trail at a Tim Horton's in Moncton on August 23, 2014.Justin Trudeau's Flickr page

It is a bedrock claim of Canada’s feminist movement that publicly-funded abortion on demand is a constitutional right carved in stone by the Canadian Supreme Court in its 1988 decision Morgentaler v. The Queen.  Nonetheless, New Brunswick law has blithely imposed certain restrictions on public funding to abortions for the past 25 years.

That could change next month. Provincial Liberal Leader Brian Gallant has made it an election promise to review “the barriers” to abortion and remove those “incompatible” with the Morgentaler ruling. He has also warned all his party’s candidates they must support his view, aping a move earlier this year by federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

“Any candidate that will respect that position and that will support that position can run for us,” Gallant told reporters this week in Moncton. “It's not about personal preference. It's about ensuring that we respect a woman's right to choose and I've made that very clear to all 48 candidates that will be running with me in this election.”

“If he gets his way,” Peter Ryan, executive director of the New Brunswick Right to Life Association, told LifeSiteNews, “the province will go from doing 1,000 abortions a year (half the national rate) to 2,000.” Though as a charity, his organization cannot be partisan, Ryan is putting out the word to supporters to challenge all their local candidates on their position. While only the ruling Progressive Conservatives support current restrictions, the Liberals include at least half a dozen pro-lifers among their incumbent Members of the Legislative Assembly running for re-election.

“Abortion is only a sidelight of this campaign,” Dr. Tom Bateman, a political science professor at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, told LifeSiteNews. A $700-million-a-year government deficit and economic development are far more central, with the Progressive Conservative government promising to reduce the deficit, spur growth, and reverse the exodus of the province’s youngest and brightest with domestic natural gas and power developments.

The left-of-center opposition parties—the Liberals, the New Democrats and the Greens—either oppose these plans or want further study. But in a four-way election whose outcome “is anybody’s guess,” says Bateman, a marginal issue strongly felt by a few could decide crucial ridings. Take the swing seat of Miramachi, wrested from the PCs in the last election with the narrowest of margins by Liberal Bill Fraser, a staunch pro-lifer.

“We are urging our people in Miramachi to put the question to Bill Fraser,” says Ryan. “Can he run for that party and be pro-life?”

But at both Liberal headquarters and Fraser’s campaign office, the Liberals were being cagy. At the headquarters, LifeSiteNews was told: “We will review the barriers to abortion and remove those which are incompatible with Supreme Court decisions.”

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When this was repeated to the receptionist at Fraser’s campaign office in Miramachi, she laughed: “That sounds about right,” but would say nothing more about the barriers-to-abortion issue.

But there are no barriers to abortion, says Prof. Bateman, only barriers to funding. He even wrote an op-ed piece for a local daily paper to debunk the claims of pro-abortion organizations such as Reproductive Rights New Brunswick that the province’s regulations violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the Morgentaler decision. “There is nothing in Canadian law requiring publicly-funded abortion on demand,” he says.

His opinion was echoed by the retired chief justice of Prince Edward Island, Gerard Mitchell. In the Morgentaler decision, he wrote in a letter to the editor of Charlottetown's Guardian newspaper in May, “None of the seven judges held that there was a constitutional right to abortion on demand.”

What the Morgentaler decision did do was throw out the existing federal law that made abortion a crime except when approved by a hospital medical panel. New Brunswick’s regulation, passed shortly after the Morgentaler decision, only sets out which abortions will be funded by Medicare.

Abortion became a hot issue this spring when the province’s only private abortion clinic, owned and operated by the winner in the landmark 1988 case, Dr. Henry Morgentaler, shut down.  A for-profit operation that was losing money for the abortuary chain operator, the clinic did the majority of the province’s abortions, Ryan told LifeSiteNews.

Now pro-abortion groups want an end to such “barriers” as the need for two doctors attesting to medical necessity, for the abortionist to have visiting rights at a hospital, and for the abortion to be done in a hospital, before funding is provided.

The New Democrats and Greens agree, the Progressive Conservatives disagree, and the Liberals, who have a chance of winning the next election, apparently say “yes if.”

It’s an answer that leaves both ardent pro-lifers and ardent pro-abortionists unhappy. But that, says Bateman, is also true of the status quo. It’s an answer, in other words, that Gallant may hope will lose him few pro-life votes while drawing pro-choice votes from the other left-wing parties.

Maritimers tend to be more conservative on abortion. According to a 2011 Environics poll commissioned by LifeCanada, 35 percent think the unborn should be protected from birth (versus 28 percent of all Canadians); 65 percent think abortion should be illegal after the first trimester (versus 58 percent nationally); and 63 per cent oppose tax-funded abortion except in “medical emergencies,” compared to 58 percent across Canada.

That would seem to mean most New Brunwickers don’t want the current rules Liberalized, but whether they care enough to vote accordingly remains to be determined.