A new medical centre is opening inside the former Morgentaler clinic in Fredericton and will once again be the only private abortion clinic in New Brunswick.
Clinic 554, which was formally announced on Friday, will offer various publicly funded health services, such as contraception, cancer screening and pregnancy options, such as emergency IUDs, prenatal care, but it will also perform abortions not covered by medicare.
New Brunswick only pays for abortions if they are performed in one of two hospitals in the province.
Medical director Dr. Adrian Eoin Edgar said in a statement that Clinic 554, on Brunswick Street, will fill an important gap in the health 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 other provinces have," Edgar said.
The new medical clinic is the result of a fundraising campaign led by Reproductive Justice New Brunswick and the Fredericton Youth Feminists that garnered more than $125,000.
The crowdfunding initiative started after the Morgentaler clinic announced it was closing.
Wendy Robbins, a longtime advocate for improving access to abortion services in New Brunswick, said there is a need for a private clinic to offer reproductive health services.
"I would assume there is a huge need for very progressive medical care being provided right here in New Brunswick, right here in the capital city," she said on Friday.
'It’s an achievement to get back to square one. It is an achievement to catch up to the 1980s. It is a very muted hallelujah.' - Wendy Robbins
The health clinic will open in the "coming weeks."
It will also treat about 600 people without family doctors and "underserved communities," such as people newly infected with HIV or with sexually transmitted infections.
The Morgentaler clinic’s decision to shut last year forced politicians to begin debating the provincial government’s abortion policies. It thrust the topic of abortion into the discussion during the September election campaign.
Brian Gallant’s Liberals pledged to review the province’s abortion rules, particularly the regulation that forced women to get two doctors to declare an abortion was medically necessary before it would be paid for in a public hospital.
That promise prompted Gallant to be the target of anti-abortion postcards in the final days of the campaign.
Gallant announced in November that the contentious regulation was being removed. Starting in January, abortions still must be performed in a hospital to be covered by medicare, but the so-called two-doctor rule has been lifted.
Hospitals in Bathurst and Moncton are currently the only facilities that perform abortions. It's unclear how many additional hospitals may provide the service.
That means a woman who wants to have the procedure may need to drive three or four hours, depending on where she lives in the province.
When the Liberal government changed the province's abortion policy, the rationale for restricting it being done in hospitals was because it would be treated like any other surgery.
Health minister responds
Health Minister Victor Boudreau said the government intends to keep that rule in place.
"Our government recently identified and eliminated the barriers in order to respect our legal obligations under the Supreme Court of Canada rulings and the Canada Health Act regarding a woman’s right to choose," he said in a statement.
"As it stands, this procedure will be funded by medicare when done in a hospital like other insured services. Regional health authorities have been charged with increasing their capacity to provide this service in a timely and non-judgmental fashion."
Robbins described the new rules governing abortion services as a "partial victory."
"It’s an achievement to get back to Square 1. It is an achievement to catch up to the 1980s. It is a very muted Hallelujah," she said.
"It is a hallelujah, but it is not where we wanted to be with a change of government."
The political fight is moving from eliminating the two-doctor rule to having medicare fund abortions performed in other settings outside of hospitals, such as community health centres, private clinics and doctors’ offices.
Robbins said an abortion costs roughly $800 to be performed in a clinic. Meanwhile, the cost in a hospital is close to $2,000.
"A sheer economic argument is made for providing it in the least costly environment possible," she said.
"[Gallant's abortion policy change] got two-thirds the way there, but two-thirds is not all of the way. We just need that additional piece included."
Allison Webster, treasurer of Reproductive Justice, agrees.
"It is a Band-Aid solution and we're definitely going to keep lobbying the government until our services are on par with other provinces."
The New Brunswick Right to Life organization is located directly next to the clinic.
The anti-abortion group did not respond to a request for an interview on Friday.
Nearly half identify as pro-choice in N.B.
A poll released last week shows nearly half of New Brunswickers are pro-choice.
Corporate Research Associates indicated its latest survey revealed 48 per cent of respondents said they believe abortions should be available within the first three months of pregnancy.
Thirteen per cent oppose abortion, while 31 per cent think abortions should only be available in limited circumstances, such as incest and rape.
There is also a debate at the federal level about allowing the abortion pill mifepristone into Canada.
Health Canada has pushed back its decision on whether to approve mifepristone.
Health Canada has had the application to approve the drug, also known as RU-486, since December 2012. It usually takes about nine months for pharmaceuticals to work their way through the approval process, but a request for additional information resets the clock on the application.
The federal department has recently required more information. If the drug were to be approved in the fall, it wouldn't hit the market until 2016.
Mifepristone was first approved for use in 1988 in France and has been used by millions of women in 57 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, in western Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
Proponents say approval of the drug would provide greater access to medical abortion for women in rural or remote parts of Canada.