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Globe and Mail columnist Elizabeth Renzetti. (Randy Quan For The Globe and Mail)

Globe and Mail columnist Elizabeth Renzetti.

(Randy Quan For The Globe and Mail)

ELIZABETH RENZETTI

Abortion in New Brunswick: The vise tightens, and activists push back Add to ...

The world is full of worthwhile projects seeking crowdfunding to get off the ground, from restaurants to documentaries to journalists’ trips to war zones. There is even a fellow in Ohio who has received thousands of dollars in donations after announcing that he needed money to make a potato salad.

One project is in need of funding for something a little more crucial than potato salad. The Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton is slated to shut down this week, which will make it even harder for women to get abortions in New Brunswick, which is already notoriously difficult.

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Now, a group of activists is hoping to raise $100,000 using the donation site FundRazr in order to extend the clinic’s lease and keep it going. Ideally, the clinic would be a reproductive-health centre “with abortion services as a critical component,” says Kathleen Pye of Reproductive Justice New Brunswick.

Right now, in a country where all provinces and territories (and the people in them) are supposed to be equal, the women of New Brunswick are distinctly second-class citizens when it comes to controlling their biological destinies. Thanks to a provincial vise called Regulation 84-20, public health insurance covers abortion only if it is performed in a hospital, and if two doctors have certified in writing that the procedure is “medically necessary.”

This meant that there was no government money subsidizing the Morgentaler Clinic, and the clinic itself was subsidizing women’s care, under Henry Morgentaler’s edict that no woman needing an abortion should be turned away. A belief, in other words, that health care should not be the privilege of those who can afford it.

Ms. Pye points out the various barriers that Regulation 84-20 has thrown up, which are about to get a lot harder to climb: It is difficult for women to find two doctors to sign their approval in a province where 60,000 people are without a family physician; there are only two hospitals in the province that perform abortions; women travelling out of province have to pay all their expenses and medical fees out of pocket since the province doesn’t provide reciprocal reimbursements for abortion. So who gets shafted when the clinic shuts down? Poor women. Women who can’t afford to leave their jobs or kids while they’re gone for days. Women who don’t have the means to travel out of province anyway.

There is an anonymous comment on the clinic’s FundRazr page, from a woman who gave $100. She writes, “I am 80 years old. As a nurse in London in the 1950s, the first death I encountered was a 41-year-old mother who was poor and couldn’t face having more children and suffered a botched abortion. I Iearned then that there are only safe and unsafe abortions and it is usually those without resources who suffer unsafe abortions.”

Says Ms. Pye, “When access is denied, people are going to get hurt. People are going to find a way to have an abortion, and now it could be dangerous.”

Where are the provincial Liberals in all this? Much noise accompanied Justin Trudeau’s announcement that all MPs would have to vote pro-choice in line with federal Liberal practice, but that is political gamesmanship and means very little in the here and now, with women’s health at stake. (Three Liberal MPs did write to Health Minister Rona Ambrose protesting the restrictions on abortion in New Brunswick.)

With a provincial election looming in September, New Brunswick Liberal Leader Brian Gallant has promised a “review” of the province’s abortion policy if his party wins, but that is hardly a ringing call to equal access for all, or a promise to get rid of Regulation 84-20, which prevents women in the province having the same rights as women across the country.

The fight for reproductive freedom in New Brunswick has been long and bitter, even before then-premier Frank McKenna laid down his challenge: “If Mr. Morgentaler tries to open a clinic in the province of New Brunswick, he’s going to get the fight of his life.” Now, 25 years later, Dr. Morgentaler is gone and the clinic that bears his name is on the verge of disappearing, too. That is, unless some generous people across the country decide that this is a fight worth digging deep for, in the understanding that when some of us lose our rights, we all do.

Follow on Twitter: @lizrenzetti

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