With a provincial election in New Brunswick possibly imminent, abortion access and trans health advocates promise to make keeping Clinic 554 in Fredericton open an election issue.
As reported last week by the NB Media Co-op, Clinic 554’s Dr. Adrian Edgar has begun saying goodbye to his patients but he is still holding out hope that New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs will meet with him and repeal a regulation that makes it impossible for his clinic to stay open.
Organizers of the “Thanks for Nothing, Premier Blaine Higgs” rally planned for Saturday, August 22 at 1:00 to 4:00pm at the Oak Bay Campground in St. Stephen say they want to call attention to the Higgs government’s refusal to fund abortion care like other medical procedures done at Clinic 554, a family practice.
The rally is planned to coincide with Progressive Conservative Candidate Kathy Bockus’ “Thank You Premier Higgs” BBQ at the same time and location.
“Frankly, if 84-20 is not repealed, we do not think there is anything to thank him for, and we encourage you to show up and let him know,” said Reid Lodge, a local trans activist and one of the rally organizers.
New Brunswick’s Medical Services Payment Act, specifically, Regulation 84-20, Schedule 2a.1, restricts funding for abortion services in New Brunswick to hospital settings only. Currently, only hospitals in Moncton and Bathurst provide abortion services. Clinic 554 is also the only second trimester abortion provider in the province.
“This is clearly unconstitutional, as has been discussed in Supreme Court of Canada legal cases brought forward by the late Henry Morgentaler and pointed out by legal experts within and outside of Canada,” said Lodge.
Valerya Edelman, Clinic 554’s Manager, added: “The Higgs government has been found in violation of Canada Health Act and penalized already once. New Brunswick will likely continue to be penalized by the federal government because of Higgs’ government negligence.”
In March, the government of Canada withheld $140,216 from New Brunswick’s annual health care transfer payment due to New Brunswick not adequately funding abortion care. However, due to COVID-19, the Trudeau government ended up paying the full health care transfer to the province.
One New Brunswick Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) has taken to social media this week to support Clinic 554.
Saint John-Rothesay Liberal MP Wayne Long shared on Facebook:
I will always stand up for the Charter-protected rights of women and trans people in Saint John–Rothesay; that’s why I wrote to Premier Higgs today to urge him to take immediate action to save Clinic 554 by ensuring that the Government of New Brunswick complies with its moral, statutory, and constitutional obligation to fund abortion care services at the clinic through Medicare. #ProudlyProChoice #WomensRightsAreHumanRights #TransRightsAreHumanRights.
Long met with Reproductive Justice NB on August 12 to discuss further actions he can take to “ensure that our federal and provincial governments take the urgent action required to #SaveClinic554.”
Jessi Taylor, spokesperson for Reproductive Justice NB, said that Long committed to encouraging New Brunswick Liberal Party Leader Kevin Vickers to include Clinic 554 in his negotiations about a provincial election with Higgs this week.
Long also promised to the reinitiate meetings with Canada’s Health Minister, Patty Hadju, over resuming the withholding of transfer payments, but this time with an amendment that the payment will be redistributed to Clinic 554, so that both reproductive health care and COVID health monies stay in the province.
Long also expressed concern over French access to services across the province for people who are not in French speaking areas, a concern brought to his attention by Regroupement féministe du Nouveau-Brunswick. He also wants to work with Fredericton-Oromocto Green MP Jenica Atwin to highlight trans health care gaps in Parliament.
With Long on board and Atwin being a supporter of Clinic 554 since being elected MP, Edelman, questions what it is going to take for the Higgs government to move on reproductive health care: “Higgs and Health Minister Ted Flemming have received numerous letters from the public as well as from the New Brunswick Medical Society and Horizon Health calling for the removal of abortion restrictions.”
An online petition to fund abortion services at Clinic 554 has more than 11,000 signatures. Before the online petition, thousands signed a hard copy petition that was tabled in the New Brunswick Legislature by David Coon, Fredericton’s Green Member of the Legislative Assembly.
Since 2015, the award-winning Clinic 554 has operated as a family practice that also provides abortions and trans health care to patients from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and PEI.
Today, the Fredericton Feminist Film Collective released their cellphilm about Clinic 554 for grade 7 social studies students that encourages students to think about how to support the Fredericton clinic that offers gender-affirming, stigma-free health care. The cellphilm was produced as a part of the “Queering Social Studies” project at the University of New Brunswick.
“Why does the government of New Brunswick keep denying a problem despite of evidence, consequences and public outcry? Next, they may face a class action lawsuit on behalf of thousands who were forced to pay for an abortion,” said Edelman.
For Lodge, there is no valid economic or public health reason for Higgs and his cabinet to deny funding for abortion in a clinic setting.
“By refusing to meet with Clinic 554 and discuss a better, more affordable public funding model, Blaine Higgs is showing that he is willing to put New Brunswickers of all demographics at risk to satisfy his personal religious convictions, and this is completely unacceptable,” said Lodge.
Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada reported earlier this week that Premier Blaine Higgs had blocked the organization on Twitter. The Premier’s office responded, claiming it was a mistake.
Lodge like other Clinic 554 supporters are renewing their resolve to do what they can to keep Clinic 554 open: “Dr. Edgar is my family doctor and as someone who could conceivably need to access abortion services due to my physiology, I am committed to ensuring that this regressive state of affairs in New Brunswick comes to an end, no matter how long it takes.”
For those wanting to join the efforts to keep Clinic 554 open and learn about reproductive justice, Reproductive Justice NB and the Campaign to Save Clinic 554 are hosting a webinar, “Imagine: Reproductive Justice Beyond Clinic 554,” on Thursday, August 13 at 7:00pm. Register at firstname.lastname@example.org for the link.
Tracy Glynn is a founding organizer of Reproductive Justice NB.