As Clinic 554 inches toward its permanent closure at the end of September, discussion has increased among New Brunswick citizens concerned about our abortion access. Premier Blaine Higgs has made it clear that he will not fund Clinic 554, stating that it is a private clinic (it isn’t), and that our province has more than acceptable abortion access, as it is covered for free in select hospitals. There are two hospitals in Moncton and one hospital in Bathurst that currently perform abortions covered by Medicare.
Abortion rights activists have been trying to make their voice heard with online discussion, protests and by contacting their local MLAs as well as Higgs and Health Minister Ted Flemming. Reproductive Justice NB and the Campaign to Save Clinic 554 have been trying to hold Higgs accountable for ensuring safe access to abortions in the province. Despite this, Higgs has stood firm, stating: “We actually believe that, certainly in the last few years, they are indeed very accessible here in the province.”
I know first hand that this isn’t true.
I am 20 years old. It is 2013. I’m working part-time at Walmart while going to the University of New Brunswick in Saint John full-time. I live with my parents during that time, who are Christian and pro-life. I have a boyfriend of two years.
And my period is a month late.
I used protection, so I wasn’t sure what was going on. I took pregnancy tests over and over again after the first, second, third week pass. They come back negative, but I am still not having my period. I am absolutely terrified. At this point, I knew I needed a plan.
I tried to find doctors in the city who would be able to provide me one of the two doctors approvals I needed to obtain a Medicare-covered abortion (a rule which thankfully was removed by Brian Gallant when he came into power). This information was basically impossible to find, and doing this covertly while living with my parents was particularly difficult. I had to consider what would happen if I couldn’t find doctors who would give me that approval. At the time, I heard that they would cover abortions for those who would not be able to realistically take care of a child. Would they deny me because I could technically support a child, despite not even making $10,000 per year while I was going to school? Because I wasn’t a teen? Because I had a boyfriend who would be able to help? What if I encountered conservative doctors who wouldn’t be willing to write me an approval?
How would I get there? I lived in Saint John and I couldn’t drive, and neither could my boyfriend. Who could I trust to help me get to Moncton or Bathurst? I either worked or went to school every day, so how was I going to find the time off? Not to mention that waitlists for Moncton and Bathurst for abortions is notoriously long. What if it’s too late and the 16-week mark passes?
Thankfully, Clinic 554 was there as a safeguard. It was closer, and I did not need the doctors’ approvals. But with my small paycheck, I didn’t know how I would pay the $700-850 dollars it would cost for the abortion.
I felt helpless and scared. Everything seemed impossible to work around. I wouldn’t be able to sleep, trying to work this out in my mind. Just to get an abortion, in a province that apparently has acceptable services.
I did, eventually, get my period. I now know it was likely due to my absurd amounts of stress that delayed it. I did not have to enact any of my plans I had to make, in case I became pregnant.
But my story could have ended a lot worse. I experienced first-hand the barriers to abortion access in our province, especially for those who live in the south including Saint John. The easiest access I would have had, at Clinic 554, is being cut off because the province refuses to fund the abortions through their clinic.
I am not an exception or a minority. These are challenges shared by all womb-havers in our province trying to access something that we, through the Canada Health Act, have a right to.
So, Premier Blaine Higgs, when you say our province has adequate access to abortion, I know that can’t be true. Anyone who has tried to work around our broken system knows you’re lying. You do not want to expand abortion access due to your own biases and personal beliefs. You are breaking the law. And we will always be there to hold you accountable.
I hope my story in some way helps put into perspective the problems our provinces face with adequate health care and abortion access — and how we cannot afford to lose one of the few providers we have.
* The NB Media Co-op usually publishes the full name of the authors but given the social stigma that exists around people accessing reproductive health care in New Brunswick, we have respected the request of the author to use only her first name.