New Brunswick

New abortion care network seeks to improve access in N.B.

A new group of health professionals hopes to make abortion care more accessible to New Brunswickers.

Group of health professionals launches Saturday on Mortgentaler decision anniversary

A woman with her hair in a braid
New Brunswick Abortion Care Network will help cut down on delays and redundancies through better co-ordination, communication and promotion of services, according to spokesperson Martha Paynter. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

A new group of health professionals hopes to make abortion care more accessible to New Brunswickers.

The New Brunswick Abortion Care Network, whose 20 founding members are in nursing, obstetrics, family practice, pharmacy and health administration, launches Saturday — the 35th anniversary of the Supreme Court of Canada's Morgentaler decision, which decriminalized abortion.

The group aims to train more professionals and to raise awareness, said spokesperson Martha Paynter, a researcher and associate professor of nursing.

"The number one problem with access in New Brunswick is information," she said.

Despite provincial restrictions that limit Medicare coverage of surgical abortions to three hospitals, New Brunswick has had some "incredible advancements" in recent years, said Paynter, citing the introduction of self-referral in 2014 as an example.

No referral required, abortion pill covered

"So for almost 10 years you haven't needed to speak to a family doctor … [or] go to a walk in clinic, to be referred. 

"You just call the [the two hospitals in Moncton or the one in Bathurst] and get an appointment. And people do not know that, so we want people to know that," said Paynter.

In 2017, New Brunswick also became the first province to offer the abortion pill Mifegymiso free of charge. So unlike other prescription medications, people don't have to put it through their insurance or pay for it out of pocket, she said.

"It really radicalizes access."

About 100 people gathered at the New Brunswick Legislature in Fredericton in July to rally for abortion and LGBTQ rights. (Isabelle Leger/CBC)

Still, not all primary care providers who can prescribe it are trained or comfortable doing so, said Paynter.

"So we want to create those opportunities," she said, noting medical abortions are only an option for the first 10 weeks, so any delays can be critical.

The network also hopes to tackle the lingering stigma surrounding abortion, said Paynter.

It's a common and safe procedure, and a basic part of reproductive care, she said.

"Frankly, we really find this work very fulfilling and we're very proud to do this work, and we want to be together to support each other and uplift this area of care."

Paynter believes the public conversation is "shifting," especially since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last summer to overturn Roe v. Wade, which had secured constitutional protections for abortion in the United States for nearly 50 years.

"I think Canadians now recognize that that is really special. It's really critical to our democracy. It's a fundamental element of human rights to be able to govern your own body."

In New Brunswick, surgical abortions are covered by Medicare only if they're performed in a hospital. Abortion services, however, are only performed at three hospitals — the Moncton Hospital, the Dr Georges L Dumont University Hospital in Moncton and the Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst.

The Morgentaler decision held that the abortion provision in the Criminal Code was unconstitutional as it violated section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the right to security of the person.

With files from Information Morning Saint John