Service restored: New abortion clinic opens in Fredericton

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Photo: kandisebrown

Clinical abortion services are returning to Fredericton. Clinic 554 announced its opening on Jan. 16, 2015, as a family practice providing integrated abortion care services as well as specialized care for the LGBTIQ community. Clinic 554 is located at the former Morgentaler Clinic.

"New Brunswick is more diverse than people think. There are a lot of people here with unique health needs but we're too strapped for cash. The Province is doing a lot -- building Community Health Centres, bringing in allied providers like NPs and Midwives. We just wanted to do our part to contribute -- to make sure all New Brunswickers have access to the same quality and range of health-care services that other provinces have," said Dr. Adrian Eoin Edgar, Clinic 554's Medical Director in a prepared statement.

Clinic 554 will take on 600 patients who are currently awaiting a family doctor in Fredericton and will provide health care to many underserved communities, including transgender children, youth and adults, people newly infected with HIV, STIs or Hepatitis C, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, two-spirited, and queer patients. Besides offering abortion services, Clinic 554 will also offer an array of reproductive health services, including contraception, cancer screening and pregnancy options, such as emergency IUDs and prenatal care.

The reopening of the clinic was made possible in part by the fundraising efforts of Reproductive Justice NB and the Fredericton Youth Feminists.

The groups launched the #SaveTheClinic fundraising campaign in the wake of the closure of the Morgentaler abortion clinic in Fredericton. The clinic closed in July 2014 following a 20 year battle with the New Brunswick government to have its abortion services funded for its patients. New Brunswick is the only province in Canada with a private abortion clinic where abortions are not funded by Medicare.

The #SaveTheClinic campaign succeeded in raising more than $125,000 for improved abortion access in New Brunswick. More than 1,500 people and organizations donated.

"It was touching to receive donations in every amount. Many who only had $5 to spare still took the time to send it along in order to help the people of New Brunswick access safe abortion services in a clinic setting," says Allison Webster, treasurer of Reproductive Justice NB.

While abortion access activists are celebrating, they are also demanding that abortion services offered at Clinic 554 be covered by Medicare and that other barriers to abortion access be removed.

"The New Brunswick government continues to violate the Canada Health Act and put people's lives at risk," says Jessi Taylor from Reproductive Justice NB. "New Brunswickers deserve better. We have a system where those with enough luck and privilege can access the services they need, but luck and privilege is not the same as access."

The fee for an abortion at the Morgentaler Clinic when it closed was $700 before 14 weeks of pregnancy, and $850 for 14 to 16 week pregnancies.

The Morgentaler Clinic closed when it was not able to financially sustain itself following the death of Dr. Henry Morgentaler in 2013. Dr. Morgentaler had subsidized the clinic, ensuring that no one was turned away who could not pay for the service.

RJNB in collaboration with its partners plan to continue lobbying the government for more comprehensive reproductive health services. They plan to meet Health Minister Victor Boudreau this month to discuss the public funding of reproductive health services throughout the province.

Newly elected Liberal Premier Brian Gallant announced the removal of a restriction to abortion access found in the Medical Services Payment Act last November. The change meant that those wanting access to abortion services no longer had to obtain the approval of two doctors certifying the procedure as "medically necessary."

Conservative Opposition Leader Bruce Fitch attempted to force a vote on the changes to abortion access in the Legislature in December, but was denied when the Liberal party stood united in their support for the changes.

Morgentaler opened his first abortion clinic in Montreal in 1969, when attempting to perform an abortion was a crime punishable by a life in prison and the person seeking an abortion faced a two year prison sentence. Abortion became legal in Canada following the 1988 Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Morgentaler.

An amendment to New Brunswick's Medical Services Payment Act brought in 1994 attempted to restrict abortion access. Then Liberal Premier Frank McKenna vowed to stop Dr. Henry Morgentaler from setting up an abortion clinic in Fredericton. "If Mr. Morgentaler tries to open a clinic in the province of New Brunswick, he's going to get the fight of his life," said McKenna. McKenna's amendments restricted abortion access, but did not stop Morgentaler from operating the only private abortion clinic in the Maritimes in Fredericton for 20 years.

Dr. Morgentaler launched a lawsuit against the New Brunswick government in 2002 in an attempt to get the government to pay for abortions at his clinic. The lawsuit, which did not go anywhere following his death in May 2013, cost Morgentaler more than $1 million. Attempts to find out how much the governments of New Brunswick have paid on lawsuits fighting abortion access have been denied.

The Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton was performing about 600 abortions or 60 per cent of the procedures every year in the province at the time of its closure. Currently, only two hospitals in New Brunswick, the Moncton Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre and the Bathurst Chaleur Regional Hospital, are performing abortions.

Tracy Glynn is a member of Reproductive Justice NB and a writer and editor with the NB Media Co-op.

This piece originally appear on NB Media Coop and is reprinted with permission.

Photo: kandisebrown. Used with expressed permission.

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