Labour unions, representing almost a half million workers, have joined doctors, lawyers and activists across New Brunswick and Canada supporting a Fredericton abortion care provider and changes to legislation that currently restrict abortion care in the province.
Clinic 554, a Fredericton-based family practice, was forced to all but close at the end of September. According to the clinic’s Dr. Adrian Edgar, the province’s refusal to fund abortions at his practice is making it impossible for the clinic to stay open.
Clinic 554 is not only home to a family doctor providing care to 3,000 patients and abortion services, the award-winning clinic provides specialized trans health care, HIV care, and addictions care.
“Patients can’t wait. Health care delayed is health care denied,” said Brien Watson, president of the New Brunswick chapter of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE NB).
In a statement released on October 7, the province’s largest public sector union denounced the Higgs Progressive Conservative government for delaying health care.
“Fund and reopen now, and work to make the clinic part of a greater public clinic and medication-delivery system, which New Brunswick desperately needs,” added Watson.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) wrote to Higgs on October 6 calling on the province to immediately eliminate the section of Regulation 84-20 in the Medical Services Payment Act that prevents funding abortion care outside of hospital settings.
“It is unfathomable that a province with a population close to 800,000 would restrict abortion access and care to three hospitals, two of which are in the same city. This leaves individuals wanting an abortion who do not live in Bathurst or Moncton with no choice but to travel,” said Jan Simpson, national president of CUPW.
“Travel can further marginalize lower-income individuals who may not have access to a vehicle in an area with limited intercity public transportation. In practice, this creates an inequality of service, as women who are financially stable and can take time off work to fund the travel are able to more easily access an abortion,” wrote Simpson.
Canada’s largest private sector union, Unifor, called the expected closure of Clinic 554 a failure of the Higgs government to provide adequate health care services to New Brunswickers.
“Despite calls from Unifor, other unions, activists and even the Prime Minister, Premier Blaine Higgs has failed to uphold the Canada Health Act by not funding Clinic 554 properly for the essential services and care they provide to New Brunswickers,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President.
Linda MacNeil, Unifor’s Atlantic Regional Director, expressed her dismay over New Brunswick Legislature security officers removing the tents of abortion access activists who were occupying the lawn of the Legislature on September 25.
“Higgs’ blatant disregard for the thousands receiving care from Clinic 554 and the heavy-handed and authoritarian approach to peaceful protests at the clinic demonstrates little concern for the people he was elected to serve,” said MacNeil.
CUPW’s Simpson stated that, “New Brunswick is facing a massive health crisis. There are 35,000 orphan patients waiting for family doctors, with 3,000 more added to the list with the closure of Clinic 554.”
To ease congestion in emergency rooms and improve primary health care in the province, CUPE NB is calling on the province of New Brunswick to set up a network of publicly run clinics.
Until such a network is set up, CUPE NB says that the province has the “legal obligation to provide accessible, adequate and affordable abortion access and LGBTQ2+-friendly care for all, and that requires Clinic 554.”
Reproductive Justice NB expects more unions to release statements supporting Clinic 554 and the removal of barriers to access to abortion services. On Oct. 23, the Faculty Association of the University of St. Thomas (FAUST) asked Premier Higgs to fund abortion services at Clinic 554.
“A Medicare card should be all you need to get care when you step into a public clinic, from treating the common cold to getting an abortion,” said Watson.
Tracy Glynn is a member of Reproductive Justice NB and the NB Media Co-op editorial board.