The rules are clear: abortion is considered an essential service during the COVID-19 crisis. That’s the good news. The Federal and Provincial laws are also clear: stay home and stay away from hospitals unless it is an emergency. However, rules and definitions continue to change quickly during the current pandemic crisis.
In New Brunswick, people have two options for abortion services. Hospitals in Moncton and Bathurst, fully funded under the Medical Services Payment Act. Or, Fredericton’s Clinic 554, where abortions are still subject to Regulation 84-20 that states abortions are not deemed to be an entitled service unless performed in a hospital. People accessing abortions at Clinic 554 are still paying out of pocket.
Dr. Adrian Edgar, Medical Director of Clinic 554, says they are experiencing an increase of calls from people who are worried about travelling to Moncton. “For many, travel requires public transit, if available, taxis, staying in hotels and being in a hospital setting during a pandemic.” He added that many people return home to care for children or aging parents and worry about the increased risk of contacting COVID-19 in areas of high risk.
Hospitals are doing the best they can but COVID-19 tops the list of hospital priorities. Cancer surgeries are being delayed or cancelled until further notice. People with life threatening symptoms are a priority, as they should be, but it’s not unrealistic that abortion appointments could also be deferred or cancelled in a hospital during this health crisis.
Clinic 554 offers alternatives to hospital procedures. Travel is reduced as only one appointment is necessary. The clinic follows the strict safety protocols of the National Abortion Federation Canada. During these difficult times it makes sense to shift abortion procedures out of hospitals and into the community. It frees up hospital staff, reduces costs, and lessens the risks to patients.
Dr. Edgar understands the pressures facing the government during a pandemic but has once again appealed to the province to exempt Clinic 554 from the “not entitled” list In the Medical Service Payment Act 84-20. It can be done with the stroke of a pen and would make it possible for people to access funded abortions at the clinic.
Now, more than ever, Clinic 554 should have the same rights and recognition as clinics in other provinces.
Judy Burwell is a member of the NB Media Co-op board of directors, the former manager of the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton and a a lifelong advocate for women’s health rights.