Lacking abortion access, New Brunswick women head for Maine abortion clinics

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Photo: flickr/Nick Ares

Before the closure of the Fredericton Morgentaler Clinic this summer, Ruth Lockhart of the Mabel Wadsworth Women's Health Center in Bangor, Maine, saw a client from New Brunswick every eight-to-ten weeks.

That number has jumped to five New Brunswick clients accessing her clinic's services every week.

"We do about 500 abortions a year. We see maybe ten to 15 [clients] a week, and … we had one to two [women from New Brunswick] in a six-month period," said Lockhart.

"And then in the last couple of weeks, it's changed from that to half our clients. We're talking a small number to start with, but still. Where we're doing ten procedures and five are from Maine and five are from New Brunswick, it's hard not to notice."

Lockhart's clinic isn't the only one. She said it's a trend being accommodated by other abortion clinics in her area.

"There are three [clinics] open to the public in Maine … we're all noticing this."

The Fredericton Morgentaler Clinic closed its doors in July because it could no longer sustain itself financially after the province refused to fund it.

Reproductive Justice New Brunswick has since been fundraising and lobbying for the re-opening of a new clinic that will offer publicly funded, comprehensive reproductive health services, including abortion.

They have pushed for the repeal of the province's regulation that requires permission from two doctors to receive a funded abortion which is deemed medically necessary at a hospital,  saying the regulation contradicts the 1988 Morgentaler decision.

The group became cautiously optimistic when new Liberal Premier Brian Gallant Liberal took power after the Sept. 22 provincial election, as he has promised a review of what he considers unconstitutional barriers to New Brunswick abortion access.

But to Jessi Taylor, a spokesperson for Reproductive Justice New Brunswick, the clock is ticking. The rise of New Brunswick clients accessing services across the border does not surprise her, and further highlights the group's concerns.

"I think it's absolutely terrible and tragic that people have to cross borders to access medical services that we have a right to in our own country," said Taylor.

"Maine is not an option for any people who can't afford to travel, who can't cross borders or have passports."

Taylor added that it's still too early to tell whether the recent Liberal victory will also mark a victory for abortion access in New Brunswick.

"We're pretty enthusiastic that he seems wanting to keep abortion as a topic and wanting to do the study and look for barriers … to abortion, however, he's already been informed of [the barriers] and an immediate repeal of those has to happen before anything else can," she said.

"What he does with that information is up to him and his government."

In the meantime, Lockhart said her clinic is more than willing to help fill the gap, but she sees the same issues that Taylor does.

"I'm very happy that the women can come … but they tend to be women with resources and I realize that there's a lot of women who are underrepresented when it comes to serving them here," she said.

"I hope New Brunswick changes its ways."

This piece originally appeared in the New Brunswick Beacon and is reprinted with permission.

Fourth-year Journalism student hailing from Moncton, New Brunswick. Editor-in-Chief for The Brunswickan. Weekly columnist and freelancer for Moncton Times & Transcript. Pop culture junkie, proud python owner and crazy cat lady in-training.

Photo: flickr/Nick Ares

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