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Medical Director Adrian Edgar announced today that Clinic 554 cannot afford to stay open because the province refuses to cover abortion procedures that don’t take place in a hospital.Brian Atkinson/The Globe and Mail

Fredericton’s only abortion clinic is closing as a “direct result” of the New Brunswick government’s failure to fund abortion services in private clinics, the clinic’s director said Thursday.

Medical director Adrian Edgar announced that Clinic 554 cannot afford to stay open because the province refuses to cover abortion procedures that don’t take place in a hospital.

He said many patients can’t pay the out-of-pocket costs for the procedure, and as a result the clinic is being put up for sale.

“The province does this, knowing it is not fair or financially sustainable to ask health-care providers to work without wages, nor is it legal to force only patients who have a uterus to pay for their health care,” he said in a statement.

“As a direct result, it is financially unsustainable for us to keep our doors open, and the clinic has been placed for sale.”

Edgar said abortion services are currently provided in just three hospitals in New Brunswick, and the closest is in Moncton, 150 kilometres from the capital. The closure, he said, will also result in the clinic’s 3,000 patients losing their family doctor.

Health Canada has previously expressed concern over New Brunswick’s limits on abortion coverage.

“The lack of coverage for private clinic abortions under the New Brunswick provincial health care insurance plan remains a concern under the accessibility and comprehensiveness criteria of the (Canada Health Act),” the department wrote in its 2016-2017 annual report.

In a lengthy statement, Edgar said he had repeatedly tried to raise the matter with Progressive Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs, as well as with Health Minister Ted Flemming, to no avail.

“When the federal government instructed him to remove his restrictions on health care earlier this year, (Flemming) didn’t even address the issue himself,” Edgar wrote. “He sent an assistant to tell you his government was happy with the ‘status quo,’ no matter how much it costs New Brunswickers.”

The Health Department defended its policy Thursday.

“The Province of New Brunswick’s position on abortions remains unchanged from that of the previous government,” department spokesman Bruce Macfarlane said. “Abortions are available in publicly funded hospitals in New Brunswick. The Department of Health, in accordance with the Canada Health Act, does not fund private health care services.”

Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights and the clinic both say the federal government is partly to blame for allowing New Brunswick to act without consequences.

They’re calling on the party that takes power after the Oct. 21 federal election to hold New Brunswick accountable under the Canada Health Act by immediately withholding health transfers until the province agrees to fund abortion care outside of hospital settings.

“During this election, the conversation has focused on ’reopening the debate’ on abortion, rather than the real crisis at hand: access,” said Sarah Kennell, director of government relations at Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, who accused political leaders of “playing football” with the health and rights of women.

In a statement, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh blamed the federal Liberals for ignoring “widespread calls to stand up for abortion services in New Brunswick” and committed to fully enforcing the Canada Health Act if elected.

In 2014, Fredericton’s Morgentaler clinic closed after 20 years, saying it could no longer afford to provide abortion services that were not funded by the province. The closure prompted the Liberal premier at the time, Brian Gallant, to remove a regulation that required women seeking a hospital abortion to have two doctors certify it as medically necessary, but not the one limiting funding to abortions performed in hospitals.

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