Crisis for abortion services and trans care in New Brunswick

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Image: Used with permission of Save Clinic 554.

Jessi Taylor is a member of Reproductive Justice New Brunswick and a spokesperson for the campaign to Save Clinic 554. The clinic is a family medicine practice in New Brunswick that is one of the few places in the province where people can receive abortion services, trans care, and a range of specialized care for other marginalized populations. In early October, clinic staff announced that they would have to close the clinic. Scott Neigh interviews Taylor about barriers to certain kinds of care in New Brunswick, the crucial role played by Clinic 554, and the campaign to save it.

Clinc 554's closure will mean that 3,000 people will soon be added to the ranks of those without a family doctor, in a province that has a serious shortage of family doctors. The significance of the closure goes far beyond that, however. Clinic 554 is a vital resource that exists as a result of community activism and organizing. It is the only non-hospital clinic in the province to offer abortion services. It is also one of the only places that offers specialized care for queer and trans people, people living with HIV and AIDS, and people who are marginalized in other ways.

The context for both the existence and the closure of Clinic 554 is barriers to accessing care created by the provincial health-care system.

Some of this is related to abortion services. Only two hospitals in the province provide the procedure, which has never been enough, and the province refuses to fund the procedure in non-hospital settings. At an earlier point, there was a Morgentaler clinic in Fredericton, which specialized in abortion services rather than being a full family practice. It had no choice but to charge patients out-of-pocket for the procedure, but it subsidized patients who could not afford the fee. This eventually became unsustainable, and the Morgentaler clinic closed in 2014.

In the wake of that closure, Reproductive Justice New Brunswick rapidly took shape and started to organize. In collaboration with allies, they challenged the provincial regulation that placed unnecessary restrictions on abortion services, called Regulation 84-20, and they raised funds to start a new clinic. They won regulatory changes which eased some of the barriers but not all of them, and the funds they raised resulted in the founding of Clinic 554 in 2015.

The new clinic is a family practice that also offers abortion services rather than just as an abortion clinic. In part, this reflected the more expansive politics implied by the group's focus on reproductive justice. It was also practical, however. Despite ongoing work from Reproductive Justice New Brunswick and Clinic 554 itself, the province still refuses to fund clinic-based abortion services. So it was hoped that providing the full spectrum of provincially funded care available in a family practice would make the project more financially sustainable.

However, the clinic's commitment to serving marginalized populations means dealing with lots of situations where the kinds of care they provide is either underfunded by the provincial system or the provincial funding structure fits poorly with actual patient needs. So Clinic 554's business model turned out not to be sustainable either.

The community responded immediately to the closure announcement. Members of Reproductive Justice New Brunswick, Fredericton Gender Minorities, and other groups, and a bunch of other outraged and passionate community members came together to form the Save Clinic 554 campaign. They expected 15 people at the initial meeting, and there were 50. The group is calling for a repeal of the remaining restrictions to abortion services in Regulation 84-20, particuarly the ban on funding abortion services in clinics. And they are calling for improvements to how the other specialized care that the clinic provides is funded.

The campaign is still putting together its plan of action, but they have a few requests for supporters. They are asking people from across the country to contact their newly elected Members of Parliament to demand that the federal government enforce the Canada Health Act, which they say Regulation 84-20 violates. They are asking people to tell the premier and health minister of New Brunswick that they support Save Clinic 554's demands. And they ask people to follow Save Clinic 554 on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and watch for future callouts for solidarity actions.

Image: Used with permission of Save Clinic 554.

Theme music: "It Is the Hour (Get Up)" by Snowflake, via CCMixter

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Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out our website here. You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

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