Editor’s note: The following speech was given by Jenna Lyn Albert at the Solidarity Rally for Abortion and 2SLGBTQIA+ Rights in Fredericton on July 9. Other speakers at the rally included Nicki Lyons-MacFarlane, Indigo Poirier, Dr. Adrian Edgar, Amelia Thorpe, Angus Fletcher, Meredith J. Batt, Jennifer Stairs and Tracy Glynn. The rally received support from Reproductive Justice New Brunswick, Save Clinic 554, Clinic 554, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, Fierté Fredericton Pride, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Imprint Youth, Fredericton Gender Minorities, BIPOC Pride Fredericton, the Queer Heritage Initiative of New Brunswick, UNIFOR, the New Brunswick Union, and the New Brunswick Coalition of Tenants Rights.
Thank you for joining us for this rally in solidarity with those impacted by the repeal of Roe v. Wade and with the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in light of anti-trans legislation and homophobic hate crimes on the rise in the United States. Living in New Brunswick, we know all too well the impact of barriers to abortion access and 2SLGBTQIA+ health care and we offer our solidarity, our rage, and our voices to Americans being affected by these developments.
While I was serving as poet laureate from 2019 to 2021, I shared many poems with City Council about issues concerning the community. Poems on the Black Lives Matter movement, poems about being queer, poems about homelessness and mental illness and MMIWG. I had even gotten away with sharing a poem on the need for abortion access earlier in my laureateship, but it was Conyer Clayton’s poem, “Those Who Need to Hear This Won’t Listen,” read days before Clinic 554 was slated to close, that sparked controversy and made national news. After finishing the poem, I was accused by then-council members Dan Keenan and Stephen Chase of being too political and using the council reading for activism or a personal agenda.
I hadn’t done anything terribly radical by reading poems about abortion and reproductive rights to City Council. I was using the platform that I had been given to draw attention to how inaccessible abortions are in New Brunswick. It was just a drop in the bucket compared to the tireless work that reproductive rights and 2SLGBTQIA+ activists have been doing for decades and continue to do.
It was exhausting: the countless interviews, Fredericton City Council proceeding to review the mandate of the Poet Laureate and removing readings from future laureates’ responsibilities, feeling unwelcome in the council chambers and having to justify why a poem about abortion rights deserves to be shared in a public forum. The last six months of my laureateship were a blur of emotional labour and lost sleep over an act that I considered the least I could do.
This is the reality that abortion activists have been experiencing again and again as government after government does nothing to make abortions accessible in New Brunswick. Reproductive Justice New Brunswick and the Save Clinic 554 team, queer organizations like Fredericton Gender Minorities, Imprint Youth and Fierté Fredericton Pride, and volunteers have been doing this work and continue to do so. We are tired but we won’t stop. We are fed up but we will continue to fight and protest and make ourselves heard.
When the news about the reversal of Roe v. Wade hit, community members reached out to myself and other abortions activists because they wanted to do something, to show solidarity, to protest and advocate for reproductive rights and accessible 2SLGBTQIA+ health care in New Brunswick. And here we all are. Thank you for showing up, for speaking up, for listening.
It is no understatement to say that the repeal of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court is a major blow to reproductive rights, both in that country and around the world.
While abortion is decriminalized in Canada, barriers to accessing abortions remain. People in rural and remote communities, racialized, disabled, and low-income individuals still lack access to reproductive health care.
In New Brunswick, the Conservative government continues to refuse to fund abortions performed outside of hospital. Clinic 554 is running at a reduced capacity until the building is converted by the new owners into affordable housing. By refusing to fund abortions outside of hospital settings, New Brunswick is in direct violation of the Canada Health Act and has been notified of such by the Federal government. Activists here have been advocating for the removal of Schedule 2 of Regulation 84-20 of the Medical Services Payment Act, which limits Medicare funding for abortion to hospital settings only.
Only three hospitals in the province provide abortions, two in Moncton and one in Bathurst. In New Brunswick, a province with more than 40 distinct cities and municipalities, abortions services are only being funded at hospitals in two cities. This is not accessibility. Saint John does not have abortion access. Rural New Brunswickers do not have abortion access. Fredericton, the province’s capital city, will soon be without abortion access and those who receive abortion services through Clinic 554 are faced with this health care costing them between $700-$850 because the New Brunswick government refuses to cover out-of-hospital abortions.
Clinic 554 and abortion advocates do everything they can to offer financial assistance to cut down or waive fees entirely for patients who can’t afford an abortion, but this has not been sustainable and they shouldn’t have to. There is no medical reason to require abortions be performed in hospital only and patients are actually at a higher risk of infection, breach of confidentiality, and more likely to experience stigma or harassment at hospital sites compared to community ones.
Abortion rights are not the only rights at risk in the U.S. and Canada. The repeal of Roe v. Wade has already emboldening anti-abortion and far-right groups and could be disastrous to not only reproductive rights, but to same sex and interracial marriage, the right to contraception, and more.
Trans rights are already under immense threat with anti-trans legislation and trans youth being denied gender-affirming care. The queer community has seen an increase in hate crimes and harassment, with drag performers, 2SLGBTQIA+ organizations and public services such as libraries that offer queer children’s program being harassed and threatened. The reproductive and 2SLGBTQIA+ rights movements are intrinsically linked, we are fighting for basic human rights. Reproductive rights are vital to the queer community, to Black, Indigenous, People of Colour, to the disabled community.
Women are not the only people who require abortion access. Too often, trans, intersex, non-binary and Two-Spirit folks are excluded from abortion rights discourse. Anyone who can become pregnant deserves access to an abortion if they need or want one. Any worthwhile social justice movement does not exclude trans, non-binary and Two-Spirit community members and trans-exclusionary radical feminists are not welcome here.
We are not only pushing for abortion access in New Brunswick, we are fighting for 2SLGBTQIA+ health care, as queer folks still experience homophobia and transphobia in medical settings. Queer folk are still being refused gender-affirming care by medical providers and are often deadnamed or misgendered in medical settings. We need 2SLGBTQIA+ health care in this province that makes queer folks feel safe and supported. The loss of Clinic 554 has had a major impact on the family practice’s queer patients who are not only from Fredericton but would travel from other cities and provinces to receive validating queer health care.
If you need help accessing an abortion in New Brunswick, check out Reproductive Justice New Brunswick’s website for resources and know that, for the time being, abortions are still being performed at Clinic 554. Continue calling on the government of New Brunswick to axe Regulation 84-20. We have had enough of the federal government using Clinic 554 for photo ops while neglecting to hold the province accountable for violating our reproductive rights. Push for 2SLGBTQIA+ health care that validates queer folks across the province and the country.
Jenna Lyn Albert is a queer community organizer and former Fredericton Poet Laureate.