New Brunswick

Anti-abortion centre reopens next door to Clinic 554

Police have already been called once to Brunswick Street since the Right to Life centre began reopening next to the province’s only private abortion clinic.

New Brunswick Right to Life building on Brunswick Street burned down almost 2 years ago

The newly constructed Right to Life centre in Fredericton stands to the left of Clinic 554 on Brunswick Street. Clinic 554 employees say patients sometimes mistake the anti-abortion centre for the clinic. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

Police have already been called once to Brunswick Street since the Right to Life centre began reopening next to Clinic 554, the province's only private abortion clinic.

The anti-abortion charity New Brunswick Right to Life runs the Women's Care Centre, where it offers pregnancy counselling, pregnancy tests and free ultrasounds.

The centre burned down two years ago and completed rebuilding this spring after obtaining a variance from the city for a redesign.

Elizabeth Crouchman, chair of the Right to Life board, said the centre has been operating in a limited capacity for two months. 

It has a new ultrasound machine, which a hired sonographer will start using once the centre fully reopens in the next few months. It's an upgraded machine compared to the one used before the 2016 fire.

Clinic 554 manager Valerie Edelman said the Right to Life centre's high-tech ultrasound machine prompts concerns about the impact it will have on women trying to get accurate information about abortion.

The anti-abortion group New Brunswick Right to Life just reopened next door to the province’s only private abortion clinic, called Clinic 554. 0:55

"It's easy for patients seeking an abortion to mistake them for us," Edelman said. "I have no doubt that this centre emotionally tried to trick people."

She said this is because the building's signs only identify it as the Women's Care Centre, and there are currently no Right to Life logos or identifiers displayed anywhere on the outside of the building.

This was the case in the past as well.

The building on the left is the old Right to Life centre before it was destroyed in a fire in 2016. (Google Maps)

Fears centre will judge women

The ultrasound machine could be used to "guilt" women, she said, and there have been many patients who have left the centre in tears after being "intimidated" and "judged."

Crouchman denied the anti-abortion group purposely misleads women. She said the Right to Life mandate is to "protect life at every stage," and the ultrasound machine is used to help women understand their situation.

Reproductive justice advocates say the anti-abortion centre should identify itself more clearly. The Women's Care Centre has no signs that identify it as a being run by New Brunswick Right to Life. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

"We tell [women] what their options are we give them information in order to make an informed decision," she said.

"Of course, we know abortion is available … we tell them what the risks are."

Trespass report

Alycia Bartlett, a spokesperson for the Fredericton police, said they responded to a report of an unwanted person on Clinic 554 property in June. The conflict was resolved, said Bartlett, who did not know if the person was with the anti-abortion group.

Edelman said that because police were handling the case she couldn't comment on what happened but did say the person was associated with Right to Life.

She said Clinic 554 staff will always call the police if they see someone from the Right to Life clinic try to "intimidate" staff or patients on Clinic 554 property.

Crouchman said she cannot comment on the incident because she doesn't have enough information. 

'Misinformation'

Edelman said some patients who went to the Right to Life centre were told that abortion causes infertility and breast cancer, which is not scientifically accurate.

"On a day-to-day basis there are people seeking abortion services, and these folks already face so much stigma," she said. "They have to face all kinds of barriers already in government regulation.

"People who are asking about abortions need accurate information, they need compassion, they need support and they need their legal right to choose abortion if they want one."

Joyce Arthur, executive director of Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, said there are 160 clinics similar to the Right to Life one in Canada, but only 30 private abortion clinics similar to Clinic 554.

She said of those 160, only a handful have ultrasound machines, which she said can be used to spread "dangerous medical misinformation."

She said the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada recommends against using ultrasounds for sex determination only or recreational purposes only.

Arthur said the Right to Life centre's use of the ultrasound machine falls under "recreational" because the centre is not a medical clinic.

A solution

"Given the anti-abortion stance of these places they're not going to be willing to, or maybe not be qualified to give any medical information," Arthur said.

"If they detect an anomaly in the fetus, there's possibly some dangerous medical misinformation or lack of information that may be going along with the use of this ultrasound machine."

Edelman said in an ideal world the Right to Life centre wouldn't be so close to the clinic, or at least "when they encounter someone, [would] let people know what their agenda is."

"If a patient would go there, I'd like them to say 'Oh, we are Right to Life, we are an anti-choice, pro-life organization and we want to stop you from having an abortion, so if you like more information come on it,'" she said.

"But they don't."

About the Author

Hadeel Ibrahim is a CBC reporter based out of Saint John. She can be reached at hadeel.ibrahim@cbc.ca