It's about to be more difficult to get an abortion in New Brunswick. The province's sole abortion clinic, Clinic 554 in Fredericton, is shutting down, with staff saying it can no longer afford to operate without provincial funding.
New Brunswick is the only Canadian province that doesn’t cover the cost of abortion outside of a hospital (just three hospitals across the province perform abortions; none of them are in Fredericton). That means that Clinic 554’s patients would either have to pay the $800 or so for the procedure, or the clinic would try to cover it. “It has never been financially sustainable to provide barrier-free abortions at Clinic 554 without Medicare reimbursement from the province,” said the clinic’s medical director Dr. Adrian Edgar in a news release. “We remained open all these years through sheer perseverance and due to the charity of individuals from all across Canada.”
Here's the thing, though: Abortion is supposed to be free and guaranteed under the Canada Health Act. So why isn't it in this case? Healthcare providers determine access to abortion, and as such, services vary from province to province. That means some women — especially those in rural, isolated communities — may have to travel hundreds of kilometres, or take time off work to get an abortion. They may also have to pay out of pocket, as is the case in Fredericton, or wait to be reimbursed by the province. And there are fears things could get worse. According to a Refinery29 survey of more than 1,000 Canadian women polled ahead of the 2019 federal election, 56% of 18- to 35-year-olds are worried access will be restricted further.
Abortion in Canada has been a hot-button, if surprising, topic ahead of Oct. 21, largely because of the restrictive legislation passed in the United States. Much emphasis has been placed on the fears that the Conservatives may roll back reproductive rights if elected, even though Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has repeatedly said that, while he is anti-abortion, he'd keep things status quo.
These conversations are missing the point, according to Sarah Kennell, director of government relations at the pro-choice charitable organization, Action Canada For Sexual Health And Rights. “We’re frankly insulted that our leaders think it’s acceptable to talk about abortion only in the context of reopening the debate,” she tells Refinery29. “This New-Brunswick situation very clearly demonstrates the access issue.” According to Kennell, the regulation that prevents clinic funding in N.B. could easily be repealed by New Brunswick premier Blaine Higgs. We have reached out to the premier's office for comment.
Adds Edgar: "We're living in a state of legislated misogyny that should horrify every Canadian and every candidate in this election." Edgar says whomever is elected come Oct. 21, the federal government should withhold funding to New Brunswick's provincial health services until it funds in-clinic abortions. No federal party leader has addressed the news yet.
The closure of Clinic 554 will also leave 3,000 patients without family doctors. The clinic will shut down 90 days after it's sold.