Fredericton – The Fredericton Morgentaler Clinic plans to close at the end of July after operating for 20 years. Simone Leibovitch, the clinic’s manager, made the announcement today, April 10th, at a media conference at the clinic. She listed financial losses as the reason for the closure and pleaded for publicly funded services. Leibovitch spoke of the marginalized women in the province who are going to suffer the most with the closure of the clinic.
University of New Brunswick Law Professor Jula Hughes spoke of the political struggle that lies ahead for women in need of access to abortions and health care in the province. About 50 people gathered outside to show their support for the clinic while several clinic escorts, volunteers and supporters listened with a heavy heart to the announcement inside.
Reproductive justice advocates have formed the Ad Hoc Committee for NB Reproductive Justice in response to the news that the clinic is closing. Meetings are being planned and social media sites, websites and email lists are being created. A rally organized by the Fredericton Youth Feminists is being organized for Thursday, April 17th at 12:30pm at the NB Legislature. To find out more, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The reasons for the closure of the clinic and the history of the struggle for women to have access to abortions in New Brunswick are outlined in the following backgrounder that was disseminated today.
From the moment Dr. Morgentaler announced his intention to open an abortion clinic in Fredericton, the provincial government planned to thwart his efforts. The premier at the time, Frank McKenna, stated that: “if Mr. Morgentaler tries to open a clinic in the province of New Brunswick, he’s going to get the fight of his life.” Subsequent New Brunswick governments have continued to block access to abortion services in New Brunswick.
Dr. Morgentaler was immune to their threats. He had already survived jail, threats against his life and the bombing of his Toronto clinic. The actions of the N.B. government only served to strengthen his resolve to ensure that New Brunswick women would have access to safe abortion care in his clinic and that no woman would be turned away regardless of her ability to pay. The Morgentaler Clinic opened in June, 1994 and since then has provided abortion services to more than 10,000 women in a non-judgmental, evidence based, and professional environment.
The main obstacle the New Brunswick government created for New Brunswick women who needed to access abortions was, and still is, Regulation 84-20, Schedule 2(a.1). It states that an abortion will only be covered by Medicare if:
- It is performed in a hospital by a specialist in the field of obstetrics or gynaecology and that
- Two doctors have certified in writing that the procedure is ‘medically necessary’.
Note: The federal government or the courts have never defined what ‘medically necessary’ means, other than the circular definition in the Canada Health Act – “medically necessary is that which is physician performed”. The provinces decide what is medically necessary under the Act, by creating a list of insured services, which are then automatically deemed medically necessary. With respect to abortion it does not mean ‘only if there is a threat to the mother or the foetus’. New Brunswick acknowledges that abortion is a ‘medically necessary’ procedure by permitting abortions in some hospitals. The same definition applies to clinics.
The practical consequence of this regulation is that, unlike in any other Canadian province with stand-alone clinics, abortions provided at the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton are not funded by Medicare.
Many women who need to access abortions at the Clinic cannot pay. Most financial support comes directly from the Clinic. The National Abortion Federation provides limited financial support. The amount of financial assistance provided by the Clinic speaks eloquently to the impact Regulation 84-20 has on women living on assistance, single family mothers in minimum wage jobs, students with no income, and women living in abusive relationships.
After 20 years, the Fredericton Morgentaler Clinic will be closing its doors. Regulation 84-20 remains on the books and New Brunswick women will now have no option to access abortions in the province except by meeting its discriminatory and medically unjustifiable requirements.
Had the province provided funding for clinic abortions, or paid for abortions for women without ability to pay, the Clinic would not be closing. To make matters worse, Regulation 84-20 makes it impossible for the majority of New Brunswick women to access an abortion in one of the two hospitals where this service is provided. Here’s why:
- Many women do not have a family doctor.
- Many women have a family doctor who is not pro-choice and will not make a referral. (The same physicians, some in positions of considerable influence, may refuse birth control for their patients.)
- Hospitals have long wait lists. This often means that women will be past the hospital’s 14 week gestation limit, effectively denying them the right to an abortion.
- The need for two separate visits makes it difficult for women who must arrange child care, take time off work, or find someone to drive them.
- Women are concerned about the lack of confidentiality in the hospital, especially in small communities.
The Morgentaler Clinic is closing for the following reasons:
- Many women are unable to pay for their abortions. As a result, the clinic revenue has never met expenses. Shortfalls were made up by Dr. Morgentaler personally. In the past ten years the clinic has contributed over $105,400 to subsidize abortions for women unable to pay the full amount.
- The 2008 flood caused damage to the clinic totalling more than $100,000. Many downtown businesses received some compensation but the clinic was denied any because it was not owned by a resident of New Brunswick. Had Dr. Morgentaler not paid for the required repairs to keep the clinic open, the clinic would have closed in 2008.
- The clinic cannot continue to provide abortion services that are not publically funded.
What the closure means for New Brunswick women
Most women will not be able to access a publically funded hospital abortion in New Brunswick. The only option is for them to travel out of province to clinics in Quebec, Ontario or Maine. If they cannot pay $700.00 today in New Brunswick, it is unlikely they will be able to find the money to travel out of province, pay for the abortion plus the costs of a hotel, meals, and childcare expenses. And, because New Brunswick excludes abortion from interprovincial reciprocal billing, any woman who resides in New Brunswick that goes to another province will have to pay herself. If she moves to another province and requires an abortion, she will pay out of pocket until she establishes permanent residency in the other province. Women who are already over the clinic’s 16 week limit will lose the clinic’s assistance in getting access to services in other provinces where abortions over 16 weeks are performed.
The New Brunswick government should join the rest of Canada. The government must repeal Regulation 84/20. They enacted it with the stroke of a pen, they can take it away with the stroke of a pen. There needs to be improved access to hospitals throughout the province. The women of New Brunswick should receive the same care as women elsewhere in Canada when it comes to their reproductive health. The denial of abortion services is an abuse of power and demonstrates a blatant lack of concern for the health of women. Concerns have already been raised about women checking on the internet for solutions to an unplanned pregnancy. Do we really want to go back to the days when women died from botched or self-induced abortions?
The government must designate and fund multiple access points across the province where women can find reliable and comprehensive information they need when considering whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. These access points must offer information in confidence and in a non-judgmental manner. The public health care consequences of leaving women at the mercy of anti-choice misinformation and harassment will otherwise be devastating.
Dr. Morgentaler’s motto was “Every Mother A Willing Mother; Every Child a Wanted Child”. If he could make this possible for women and their families, surely the Government of New Brunswick can do the same.
For more background information on the situation in New Brunswick, go to the Abortions Rights Coalition of Canada website – www.arcc-cdac.ca.