Clinic 554’s Medical Director Dr. Adrian Edgar has the heartbreaking task of telling his patients they are losing their family doctor. He blames Clinic 554’s inability to stay open on the government of New Brunswick’s refusal to fund abortions performed at the Fredericton-based clinic.
Dr. Edgar is seeking an urgent meeting with Premier Blaine Higgs to discuss the matter as Clinic 554 remains up for sale.
Dr. Edgar and before him, Dr. Henry Morgentaler, spent a total of almost three decades appealing to the New Brunswick government to respect the Canada Health Act and provide Medicare funding for abortions done at the clinic.
For the past five years, the award-winning Clinic 554 has operated as a family practice that also provides abortions and specialized services to the trans community who come from all over New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and PEI.
The closure of Clinic 554 is a particular blow for trans health care. More than 70 trans people are on a waitlist to see a doctor and very few doctors provide trans health services in the Maritimes.
In a letter sent to Higgs on July 16, Dr. Edgar said the patients he talks to are distraught: “They, like myself, cannot understand why New Brunswick is the only province in Canada that withholds Medicare coverage from community-based abortion providers, knowing that hospital abortions carry increased risks and cost more.”
“Today, it was an elderly patient approaching dialysis. Last week it was a young parent on the organ transplant list. The week before, three families with newborns learned they are losing their family doctor. Two more families this week joyfully welcomed the news they are expecting, only to find out they are losing their family doctor, too,” said Dr. Edgar.
On July 23, CBC reported that four family doctors are leaving the Fredericton region for positions elsewhere. The closing of Clinic 554 will only make the waitlist for a family doctor even longer.
New Brunswick behind other provinces on abortion care
New Brunswick is the only province that continues to not fund abortion services in settings outside a hospital, such as community-based clinics.
In response to calls to fund abortion services at Clinic 554, the Higgs government and previous Gallant Liberal government argued that it would be a slippery slope to private health care, which Reproductive Justice NB (RJNB), an organization that formed to restore abortion access in Fredericton and fight for health care for all, calls hypocritical given that successive Conservative and Liberal governments have allowed the creeping privatization of various health care services.
RJNB has argued that Clinic 554 is not a private clinic; it is a family practice that also provides abortion services and just like any other health care that is accessed and funded by Medicare at a family doctor’s office so should abortion services. The advocates want what they call misogyny in New Brunswick’s health care system to end.
“Clinic 554 is not a private clinic by choice, this government denies us public funding. Yet, Mr. Higgs and Mr. Flemming try to reverse these facts. Private healthcare providers don’t write their public officials dozens of times seeking public funding,” said Dr. Edgar.
Reproductive Justice New Brunswick, the Campaign to Save Clinic 554 and thousands of signatories to a petition have called on the province of New Brunswick to amend the Medicare Services Payment Act to allow abortions in non-hospital settings, which would enhance access to services in the province.
In March, the government of Canada finally took action on New Brunswick’s unwillingness to comply with the Canada Health Act and withheld $140,216 from New Brunswick’s annual health care transfer payment. However, the Trudeau government decided to make the payment when COVID-19 hit in Canada.
In a reply from Health Minister Ted Flemming to a letter from Julia Hansen of the Campaign to Save Clinic 554 on May 29, the Minister said, “the Province of New Brunswick’s position on abortions remains unchanged.”
In 2017, Premier Higgs spoke to his personal objection to abortion at a March for Life Rally. His personal views aside, Dr. Edgar’s message to the Higgs Progressive Conservative government is clear: “It is time to leave your personal views at church and stop this crusade of unlawful discrimination against gender minorities and patients seeking abortion. You have a duty to serve the public and uphold the law of this land.”
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.