Lack of abortion services upholds NB as a “drive-through” province

Written by Beth Lyons on July 18, 2014


Today, July 18, was the last day that the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton offered abortion services. Supporters of the clinic and reproductive justice activists took the streets in Fredericton and rallied at the NB Legislature. They vowed to reopen the clinic and go further to ensure widespread reproductive health access — starting with a repeal of Reg. 84.20 that forces a woman to essentially ask permission for an abortion. Rally participants had a clear message: abortion access now! Photo by Tracy Glynn.

Fredericton’s Morgentaler Clinic, the only medical facility in New Brunswick where individuals can access abortion services based on self-referral (albeit for an out-of-pocket fee) closed its doors today.

We’re back to abortions only being accessible in New Brunswick when deemed “medically necessary” by two physicians and performed in one of two hospitals that offer the service (and only to individuals who are 12 weeks or fewer along).

For an abortion under any other criteria, New Brunswickers will be forced to head out of province and pay out-of-pocket.

While I want to see the ‘issue’ of abortion access (I can’t help but use quote marks when referring to a rights issue that was settled by the Supreme Court of Canada over two decades ago) approached through the prism of gender equity, I’m beginning to see more and more clearly that this just doesn’t resonate with the powers that be in our province.

Reproductive rights advocates keep talking about how essential the right to choose is to gender justice and equity, and they are ignored.

Women’s advocates and reproductive health service providers warn that desperate individuals who cannot obtain an approved abortion will employ dangerous ways to terminate their pregnancies, and they are ignored.


Stickers that say “#savetheclinic” and “Abortion Access Now!” have gone up around the city of Fredericton today, the last day that the Fredericton Morgentaler Clinic will offer abortion services. Photo by Tracy Glynn.

Given that these compelling arguments aren’t gaining any traction, how should we begin to speak of abortion if we wish to generate meaningful change on the issue of access in New Brunswick?

Let us speak of abortion in terms that shouldn’t hold more persuasive power than human rights, but may, all the same.

Let us speak of inspiring people to choose to live in New Brunswick.

I’m thinking of people who are from here but left for university and are weighing whether or not to return; people who aren’t from here, but came for university and are toying with staying, despite their family being elsewhere; people who’ve never lived here but are partnered with a New Brunswicker who has a desire to come home despite limited prospects; people who are here and are reluctantly considering working out west, knowing they might not come back.

How do we get these people to choose New Brunswick given the irrefutable fact that our residents don’t have access to the same medical services as residents of other provinces?

It’s worth mentioning that it’s not just abortion services. Midwifery care is also lacking in New Brunswick.

Perhaps by framing our province’s lack of comprehensive reproductive health services as something that will dissuade individuals and families from choosing to make their homes in New Brunswick, we can get the attention of those who can improve abortion access in our province.

We can even make this point into a catchphrase for maximum impact.

Let’s revive and revise our province’s much decried slogan of a few years ago: “Be in this place . . . where you won’t be able to access a midwife or an abortion.”

Let’s advertise that women and trans folks in New Brunswick aren’t trusted to make decisions when it comes to ending a pregnancy or with bringing one to term.

Maybe the way to obtain better reproductive health services in New Brunswick isn’t by lobbying our government on the high ground of human rights, or even by framing the issue for them in terms of attracting (or repelling) potential residents, but by cutting government out of the conversation and talking directly to other Canadians.

Tell them that we hate being known as the “drive-through” province – because New Brunswick is actually beautiful, friendly, and vibrant – but that maybe it’s for the best that that’s our unofficial nickname.

After all, why would you stop and settle in a place where you can’t access basic reproductive health services?

Beth Lyons, associate director of YWCA Moncton, writes about equality issues and social justice.

A version of this was first published in The Times & Transcript.

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