Fredericton – “One law exists for people of means, and one law exists for poor people,” said Valerie Edelman, Manager of Clinic 554, on the topic of abortion care in the province of New Brunswick at a pro-choice panel on Feb. 4th at the University of Brunswick’s law school in Fredericton.
Allison Webster with Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada provided an update on where people can go to get a Medicare-funded abortion in the province; the Bathurst and two Moncton hospitals. Abortion services can also be accessed at Clinic 554 in Fredericton, but patients must pay approximately $700 for the procedure.
Webster argued that the lack of regional access and access to Medicare-funded abortions in clinics was a concern for potential patients because of the problems it can present, such as loss of work time, finding childcare and physical risks.
The risk of complications during an abortion increase by 20% each week. This is particularly concerning due to the constraints many patients have to observe; for example, they must have two appointments including a consult and ultrasound before their abortion.
Webster asserted that private clinics are a more therapeutic environment for the patient because the staff is more welcoming, which prevents issues that may occur in a hospital, such as shaming from pro-life staff. She also claimed that patients have been blacklisted at hospitals for having more than one abortion.
Furthermore, Webster stated that potential patients have been given misinformation about the abortion age in New Brunswick. Webster stressed there is a need for more private clinic funding stating that abortion costs can reach as high as $2000 for those without a Medicare card. She maintained that while hospital care is important, “it is just not enough.”
Jula Hughes, a UNB law professor, stated that provinces cannot regulate abortion services on moral grounds. She claimed that New Brunswick is trying to recriminalize abortion through backdoor policy and that this demonstrates a lack of respect for the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision, R. v. Morgentaler, which effectively allowed Dr. Morgentaler to perform legally Medicare-funded abortions in his clinics.
Hughes referred to changes to the Medical Services Payment Act, known in pro-choice circles as the McKenna amendments, brought in by then-New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna in 1989.
McKenna said at the time, “If Mr. Morgentaler tries to open a clinic in the province of New Brunswick, he’s going to get the fight of his life.”
Regulation 84-20, Schedule 2 (a.1) of the Medical Services Payment Act dictated that two doctors approve that an abortion is “medically required,” and that the procedure must be performed in a hospital by a specialist in the field of obstetrics and gynecology. Brian Gallant’s newly elected government dropped this requirement in November 2014.
A second regulatory barrier to abortion access that has yet to be repealed and is the subject of an upcoming petition campaign by Reproductive Justice NB is Section 2.01(b) of the Act that prohibits public funding of otherwise “entitled services” (such as abortions) in private facilities, if such services are offered in public institutions such as hospitals.
Dr. Morgentaler opened an abortion clinic in Fredericton in 1993, which at the time of its closure in July 2014 was performing 60% of abortions in the province. Up until his death in 2013, Dr. Morgentaler was personally subsidizing the abortions of women who could not afford them. After his death, the Morgentaler Foundation made the difficult decision to close the clinic for financial reasons.
A group of Fredericton-based activists quickly mobilized to save the clinic and to connect the struggles for access to abortion services to other struggles against oppression. They formed Reproductive Justice NB and together with the Fredericton Youth Feminists, a group of Fredericton-based high school students, they fundraised the money needed to finance the opening of Clinic 554. Months after the closure of the Morgentaler Clinic, Clinic 554 was providing abortion services in the same location as the old Morgentaler Clinic.
Hannah Gray of Reproductive Justice NB claimed that in a meeting she had with New Brunswick’s Health Minister Victor Boudreau, he did not ask for information from Clinic 554 regarding who is accessing the services at the clinic and that this further demonstrates a lack of concern for those needing the service.
Edelman suggested that New Brunswick should adopt Newfoundland’s policy, which is both viable and fiscally responsible. Edelman stressed that “cost should not be a consideration, but, in this case, it is cheaper to do abortions in clinics.”
Edelman asserted that everyone with a Medicare card should be given abortion access and stressed that “protection of public health care depends on equal access to hospitals and clinics.” At Clinic 554, abortion is the only service not covered. The government has “no problem with funding diabetes, just abortion,” said Edelman.
Marilyn Merritt-Gray, a nurse practitioner and member of Reproductive Justice NB, argued that “people should be at the heart of health care” and that the province has “lost its focus.” She emphasized the need for proper reproductive health education for young adults and teens.
Hughes stated that progress is being made with regards to this issue because the “conversation has changed” and she quipped that she can identify this because “the quality of the hate mail she receives has changed.”
Gray also stressed the need for better birth control access in the province, stating that youth have been denied birth control because they were not in a committed relationship.
Hughes claimed that it is reasonable to estimate that 1000 women have been unable to gain the proper access to abortion services within the province.
The panel was organized by Abbey LeJeune, a grade 11 student and member of the Fredericton Youth Feminists, for her English class.
Christopher Pearson is a fourth year Philosophy and Psychology student doing a UNB Arts 3000 placement with the NB Media Co-op.