Women in New Brunswick are getting a new, full-service health clinic that will offer abortions thanks to more than $125,000 in crowdfunded donations that poured in last spring after the province's only freestanding abortion clinic announced it was shutting down.
The closing of the Fredericton Morgentaler clinic sparked a national debate about abortion access in rural Canada and prompted the Premier to loosen New Brunswick's rules for the public funding of the procedure, which had been the most restrictive in the country.
But the regulatory changes that kicked in Jan. 1 do not extend to private facilities such as the new health centre that will open in the Morgentaler clinic's old building, which means that women who end their pregnancies there will still have to pay out of their own pockets.
The pro-choice groups that led the fundraising drive have donated the cash to a local doctor, Adrian Eoin Edgar, who used it to buy the old Morgentaler building and set up a health centre called Clinic 554, said Jessi Taylor, a spokeswoman for Reproductive Justice NB.
The clinic, which is planning to open in the "coming weeks" to 600 patients who need a family doctor, will also specialize in treating gay, lesbian and transgender people. Dr. Edgar, the medical director, plans to offer a full suite of reproductive services, including contraception, cancer screening, prenatal care and abortions up to 16 weeks gestation at a cost of $700 to $850.
"It's not so much an abortion clinic as it is a family practice that offers abortions. That's excellent," Ms. Taylor said. "We hope the Premier will take this as a model and use it elsewhere."
New Brunswick Right to Life is urging the Premier to do just the opposite.
"Whatever else they offer, an abortion clinic is still an abortion clinic," Peter Ryan, the group's executive director, said in a statement. "Thousands of lives have been prematurely ended at this site, thousands of women have had to deal with emotional and physical injury from abortion. I wonder why any sane person would want to become a patient at such a place."
The barriers to ending a pregnancy in New Brunswick gained national and international attention last year when the Morgentaler facility announced it would stop the once-a-week clinic it had held for 20 years at 554 Brunswick St.
At the time, New Brunswick was the only province in Canada that required a woman to persuade two doctors it was "medically necessary" for her to have an abortion if she wanted to get Medicare coverage for the procedure. The old regulation also stipulated that the abortion be performed by a specialist – rather than a family doctor – in a hospital.
After the Morgentaler clinic closed in July, abortion access became an issue in the September election, in which Brian Gallant's Liberals unseated David Alward and the Progressive Conservatives.
In November, Mr. Gallant announced he would amend regulation 84-20 of the Medical Services Payment Act to eliminate the two-doctor approval rule and allow family physicians to receive public funds for performing abortions.
Mr. Gallant did not, however, scrap the requirement that abortions be done in a hospital. Unless that rule is changed, women who choose Clinic 554 for their abortions will have to pay.
Mr. Gallant's office declined an interview request on Friday. Health Minister Victor Boudreau said in an e-mailed statement that hospitals in the province are working to make the procedure more widely available.
"As it stands, this procedure will be funded by Medicare when done in a hospital like other insured services," Mr. Boudreau said. "Regional health authorities have been charged with increasing their capacity to provide this service in a timely and non-judgmental fashion."
Right now, only two hospitals in New Brunswick offer abortions: The Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton and Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst, both part of the province's French hospital network.
The English-language Horizon Health Network, which operates a dozen hospitals in the province, is preparing to offer abortions at some of its sites in April.
In the meantime, Dr. Edgar said in a statement that he hopes his new health centre will provide options for New Brunswick patients who are not well-served in the current system.
"We just wanted to do our part to contribute – to make sure all New Brunswickers have access to the same quality and range of health-care services that other provinces have."