New Brunswick

Abortion clinic in Fredericton for sale, set to close without medicare funding

The abortion clinic in Fredericton, Clinic 554, is for sale and facing closure because of the province's refusal to cover the service under medicare, the medical director said Thursday.

Medical director hopes New Brunswick government will agree to cover private procedures

Clinic 554 in Fredericton is one of only four surgical abortion sites in New Brunswick and the only one in the capital. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

Clinic 554 in Fredericton, New Brunswick's only private abortion clinic, is up for sale and faces impending closure if the provincial government continues to refuse to cover out-of-hospital abortions, the medical director announced Thursday.

"It is financially unsustainable for us to keep our doors open," said Dr. Adrian Edgar.

"Just like the Morgentaler [clinic] before us, we can't keep providing free abortions."

Medicare covers only abortions provided at the two hospitals in Moncton — the Moncton Hospital and the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre — and the Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst.

Women who don't live within travel distance of one of those hospitals, who have passed the gestational limit of 13 weeks and six days for a hospital-performed surgical abortion, or who choose to go to Clinic 554 for other reasons, must pay up to $850 out of pocket for the procedure it offers up to 16 weeks of pregnancy.

Edgar said he's still hoping the provincial government will "do the right thing" and start funding abortions performed at the clinic.

Otherwise, within 90 days of the building's sale, the approximately 3,000 people who rely on the clinic as a family practice that specializes in transgender and LGBTQ care, will join about 20,000 other New Brunswickers already on a waiting list for a family doctor.

"All because your government could not agree to fund health care equitably."

Health Minister Ted Flemming could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

But in an emailed statement, Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane said the province's position on abortions "remains unchanged from that of the previous government."

"Abortions are available in publicly funded hospitals in New Brunswick."

Edgar contends the province is violating the act by forcing only patients "who have a uterus to pay for their health care."

Clinic 554, New Brunswick's only private abortion clinic, is shutting down after the provincial government refused to provide funding to cover the cost of abortions at the clinic. 1:21

Health Canada, in its 2016-2017 annual report, said New Brunswick's lack of coverage "remains a concern."

Edgar said he has tried to meet with Premier Blaine Higgs, the health minister, the board of directors for the Horizon Health Network and Department of Health officials, "to no avail." 

"This is the worst day of my life," he told CBC News. "This is my life's work, these are my patients. I thought I'd be their doctor until I died."

Jean-Claude D'Amours, health critic for the Liberals and MLA for Edmundston-Madawaska Centre, said it's difficult to comment on the pending closure of Clinic 554 without knowing all of the specifics.

Dr. Adrian Edgar, medical director of Clinic 554, announced during a Facebook live video Thursday that the clinic has been put up for sale. (Clinic 554/Facebook)

"Obviously, we would want women and the LGBTQ community to have access to important health services close to home," he said in a statement. "Nor can we afford to lose another doctor, as some news reports have suggested.

"We trust that Horizon and the health minister will act quickly to address these concerns."

The federal government could intervene and withhold health transfer payments to the province, suggested Edgar.

He called on the next federal government to take "swift, decisive action" on Oct. 22, the day after the federal election, and hold New Brunswick accountable.

Reproductive Justice New Brunswick is calling on residents to put more pressure on provincial and federal politicians and on Horizon Health to ensure the province follows the Canada Health Act and provide the clinic with the necessary funding to continue its operations," said spokesperson Jessi Taylor.

Big loss

Indigo Poirier, a chair with Fredericton Gender Minorities, a group that provides information and resources for transgender and gender non-conforming people, said the clinic closing will be a big loss to the community. She routinely refers clients there, she said.

"That's the one place that … I know is going to be reliably trans-positive and patient-focused."

The group has participated in crowdfunding campaigns to save the clinic in the past when financial problems arose, but that's not sustainable, said Poirier.

"It's exhausting for us — and the government should be doing this [funding abortions]."

Instead, the clinic ends up "eating that cost themselves, which is not fair to the doctors or the nurses, and it's definitely not fair to the patients who rely on the clinic for support."

Indigo Poirier, chair of Fredericton Gender Minorities, said it's going to be difficult to find another place to refer transgender people to when Clinic 554 closes. (Gary Moore/CBC)

The federal election campaign has seen renewed debate about abortions in Canada. Last week, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer declared he is personally pro-life but said a Tory government led by him wouldn't reopen the debate to limit a woman's access to the service.

Earlier this week, during the English debate with all six party leaders, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau accused Scheer of backing candidates for his party who are determined to take away women's right to choose if they want an abortion or not.

An online CBC News survey in August indicated New Brunswickers want to see improved access to abortion services in the province.

Using the Vote Compass feature, more than half of the 6,500 respondents said the provincial government should do more to ensure that abortion services are readily available throughout New Brunswick.

Roughly a quarter of replies said the status quo is fine, while 14 per cent of respondents said the government should do less to improve access.

With files from Gary Moore

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