Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton performs last abortions before closure
Supporters demand repeal of provincial regulation that prohibits medicare coverage of private clinic abortions
Staff at the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton performed the clinic's final abortions today before it closes at the end of this month.
The July 31 closure was announced in April by the clinic, which said it can't afford to continue performing abortions without provincial funding.
About 75 to 100 people — mostly young women — marched from the downtown clinic to the New Brunswick Legislature for a rally Friday at noon.
They were chanting: "What do we want? Access. When do we want it? Now."
Cheryl Norrad said the province can't afford to lose the clinic.
"I had two relatives in the 1940s lose their lives because they bled out from botched abortions," she said.
Law student Geneva McSheffery said the restrictions on abortion access cause some young people to leave New Brunswick.
"The economy's not great and sometimes it seems like opportunities are few and far between, and this is another nail in the coffin, so to speak," she said.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May attended the rally and addressed the crowd.
"Women's rights are non-negotiable," May said. "The women who are carrying coat hangers at today's rally — that's the alternative.
'If we don't have safe, legal abortions for women, women die.' - Elizabeth May, Green Party leader
May later tweeted she was "so proud to stand with young women for [the] right to safe, legal abortion.
"If we don't have safe, legal abortions for women, women die."
The Green party leader is in Fredericton for her party's national convention this weekend.
The New Brunswick government has refused to pay for abortions in private clinics and waged a 20-year battle with the late Dr. Henry Morgentaler over the Fredericton clinic.
Must be deemed medically necessary
New Brunswick is the only province with a private abortion clinic not receiving funding for the procedure.
The current fee for the procedure at the Morgentaler Clinic is $700 before 14 weeks of pregnancy and $850 between 14 and 16 weeks.
The clinic performs about 60 per cent of abortions in New Brunswick, its officials say. About 600 abortions a year are performed at the Fredericton clinic.
Regulation 84-20 of the New Brunswick Medical Services Payment Act stipulates abortions are paid for only if they are performed in one of two approved hospitals after being deemed medically necessary by two physicians.
Health Minister Ted Flemming was unavailable for an interview again on Friday.
Instead, the department reissued an emailed statement. "Access to this medical service will still be available in our province if the clinic closes. Women will continue to have access to medically necessary abortions in the province with the approval of two physicians," it said.
Some New Brunswickers, such as Kelly Seale, want less access to abortions, not more.
"Soon as I walk by there, I feel a very strong feeling of the devil. Yeah," said Seale, who works at an anti-abortion centre next door to the clinic.
'Status quo not acceptable'
But clinic supporters continue to call for the provincial government to repeal the regulation.
"The status quo is not acceptable," said Judy Burwell of the advocacy group Reproductive Justice NB.
"Reproductive Justice NB, the Fredericton Youth Feminists and supporters from across Canada will not stop until safe and timely abortion services, covered by medicare, are available whether performed in a hospital setting or a medical clinic," Burwell said.
A provincial election is scheduled for Sept. 22 in New Brunswick and Liberal Leader Brian Gallant had earlier pledged to review the abortion payment file if elected. However, on Friday the Liberals issued a statement in which Gallant said: "Regardless of one's personal views on the subject, we must strike to meet our obligations under the law."
Gallant said if elected in September, a Liberal government will "move swiftly to address this issue in a comprehensive way, once and for all, and ensure we are respecting a woman's right to choose."
Gallant did not attend the rally, but Liberal MLA Roger Melanson read the statement to the crowd.
The crowd responded with a chant of "Not good enough."
NDP Leader Dominic Cardy said his party would get rid of the current restrictions on its first day on the job if elected in September.
"The health minister in an NDP government on his or her first day behind their desk will pick up their pen and put a line through 84-20," Cardy said.
Halifax LEAF, a branch of the National Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, also demanded Friday that the regulation be repealed.
Reproductive Justice NB began a crowdsourcing campaign earlier this month, hoping to secure the lease on the clinic building beyond July 31.
The group hopes to find a way to offer abortions and other health services there in the future.
"We want to give them the option to be safely having an abortion, not in a back alley or anywhere that can cause danger to them," said Claire Hunter, who helped launch the fundraiser.
By Friday at about 5 p.m. AT, it had surpassed its $100,000 goal with $113,781 raised through its campaign on FundRazr.
Donations have come in from across the country.
"So it's not that people don't care. It's that the government of New Brunswick doesn't care," said activist Sorcha Beirne, 16. "But we're going to make them care."