Only abortion clinic in NB will close without government help

Allison Webster is a counsellor at Clinic 554 in Fredericton

A WOMAN’S RIGHT TO CHOOSE MAY SOON SHRINK IN NEW BRUNSWICK. The provincial government refuses to do anything to help keep Clinic 554 in Frederiction stay open. The clinic is the only clinic in the province that performs abortions.

Dr. Adrian Edgar, medical director of Clinic 554 in Fredericton, announced the closure in a statement on October 10.

Edgar blames the provincial government’s “refusal to fund health-care equality” as one of the reasons for the closure. He says the province “unilaterally refuses” to allow medicare to cover the cost of a patient who comes to him for an abortion procedure.

“The province either offloads that fee onto the patient or myself and our loving team of nurses and allied providers,” Edgar said.

‘Only patients with a uterus’ must pay

“The province does this knowing it is not fair or financially sustainable to ask health-care providers to work without wages, nor is it legal to force only patients who have a uterus to pay for their health care.”

The province only covers abortions provided at two hospitals in Moncton and one hospital in Bathurst.

The government defends its position by saying it is only obeying the Canada Health Act which expressly prohibits private healthcare services.

Jessi Taylor, a spokesperson with Reproductive Justice N.B., says this doesn’t make sense. She points out that the Clinic 554 is actually a family clinic. All its services, except abortions, are covered by Medicare—just as they are at other clinics.

Clinic 554 is also known for providing compassionate and affirming care to transgender people—something that isn’t always easy to find in New Brunswick, which has a shortage of doctors to begin with.

“Save the clinic” has long been a rallying cry in Fredericton: Clinic 554 has struggled with funding for many years. Formerly the Morgentaler Clinic, it closed down in 2014 due to a lack of funds. Activists crowdfunded more than $130,000 to reopen the clinic as Clinic 554. The move got widespread attention from international press.

Violates Canada Health Act

According to the National Abortion Federation, the state of abortion access in New Brunswick is in violation of the Canada Health Act, even with the clinic open, because patients (or caregivers) are forced to cover the cost.

In its own 2017–2018 report, Health Canada called the situation “a concern under the accessibility and comprehensiveness criteria of the Canad Health Act.” In order for abortion to be funded, the province would need to repeal a pre-Morgentaler piece of the law preventing abortions from being covered outside of hospitals.

The last government action on abortion in New Brunswick came from the government before the current one, when it provided Medicare-funding for Mifegymiso, pills that bring on what’s called a “medical abortion.” But that option has done little to improve access to abortion.

The October announcement of the clinic closing was met by “deafening silence” from the government says Jessi Taylor. But Karen McGrath CEO of Horizon Health (the provincial health authority) has since said the authority would work to support the clinic and its patients. “Certainly, we’re prepared to talk to Dr. Edgar and any other advocates in terms of collaboration,” said McGrath.

This came as welcome news for the Save Clinic 554 folks. But this kind of support is new for the clinic. New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs has avoided addressing this issue in the past, and he again refused to talk about changing the funding setup after Horizon’s board of directors forwarded a motion to him urging him to look at how these services can be better provided.

Medical care limbo

The uncertainty about the life or death of Clinic 554 is yet another serious indicator of the deeper crisis of local access to immediate, quality health care in New Brunswick. If Clinic 554 is not rescued by the province the negative impact will reach far beyond women seeking abortions.

Closing Clinic 554 will leave the nearly 3,000 patients served by the clinic stranded in medical care limbo. These patients will have no immediate access to medical care beyond waiting their turn in hospital emergency rooms or at walk-in clinics. This limbo is already over-crowded. According to the New Brunswick Medical Society, close to 75,000 New Brunswickers are without a family doctor and 21,000 are on a waiting list.

New Brunswick is in the middle of a medical care crisis. If Clinic 554 closes it will make a bad situation worse. It is not clear the Higgs government plans to do anything about either.

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