Clinic 554 cautiously optimistic after health authority urges government to fund out-of-hospital abortions

Click to play video 'Clinic 554 optimistic after New Brunswick health authority voices support' Clinic 554 optimistic after New Brunswick health authority voices support
The health authority board has passed a motion to advocate for abortion to be equally funded in private or hospital settings. – Oct 25, 2019

The medical director at Clinic 554 in Fredericton welcomes the support of Horizon’s Health board of directors but remains doubtful the New Brunswick government will change its regulations around abortion funding.

“I’m a bit guarded with my hope if I’m being honest. We have been trying for a half a decade as Clinic 554 to garner support from any corner for the clinic, and generations of women before me, have been trying with this government,” said Dr. Adrian Edgar.

“This regulation that we’re talking about when it comes to abortion funding has been in place since the 80s. So we’ve actually seen generations of women in New Brunswick grow up under this policy and have unequal access to abortion. I’m not sure what it takes to correct a trajectory that’s been so harmful for so long.”

READ MORE: Horizon Health throws its support behind Clinic 554 to save it from closing

At a meeting of its board of directors Thursday, Horizon Health passed a motion from board chair John McGarry stating that Horizon’s board will “advocate to the government of New Brunswick for payment to physicians to provide abortion services in a quality and safe environment outside of hospitals.”

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Clinic 554, which also provides primary health care to about 3,000 people along with abortion services, announced it would have to close its doors at the beginning of the month due to a provincial regulation that prevents out-of-hospital abortions from being covered by Medicare.

Currently, only hospitals in Moncton and Bathurst are funded to perform surgical abortions.

A spokesperson for the group Save Clinic 554 says the health authority’s support gives them hope, but still questions what form that support will take.

“I’m definitely curious to see what those words mean. It’s great that they’re saying they’re going to support us. They are the health authority, that means they do have sway, they do have power, so their support will hopefully also translate into action, because their words, although helpful, will not be enough,” said Olivier Hébert.

The clinic specializes in providing health care to members of the LGBTQ community and the Horizon board has also pledged to help fill in the health-care gaps that would be created should the clinic close.

But Hébert says the focus needs to be on keeping Clinic 554 open.

“We need this to stay open. This needs to be properly funded and this is already an example of how to do it properly,” he said.

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“This should be a place where we are saying, ‘Hey look this is how you can do it, here’s what we’ve learned from them.'”

Click to play video 'Advocates pressuring province to ensure abortion clinic in Fredericton remains open' Advocates pressuring province to ensure abortion clinic in Fredericton remains open
Advocates pressuring province to ensure abortion clinic in Fredericton remains open – Oct 23, 2019

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the impending closure at a Fredericton campaign stop during the federal election when he said he would sit down with Premier Blaine Higgs, if re-elected and said his government would “use all tools at our disposal, including tools that exist under the Canada Health Act.”

Under the Canada Health Act, the federal government is able to penalize provinces that fail to provide services, even withholding transfer payments.

When addressing the closure for the first time on Oct. 16, Higgs said his government has no plans to change the abortion framework that existed under the previous Liberal government of Brian Gallant and suggested the timing of the closure announcement was a politically calculated move.

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“We haven’t discussed any changes to that in the sense of looking at that seriously but I guess this isn’t the time to be pushed into that because someone says, ‘well, I’m going to close and so here’s an election,’” Higgs said.

“We know a lot of decisions in election time are made for that purpose only.”

READ MORE: Fate of N.B. clinic speaks to unfinished fight for abortion access in Atlantic Canada

Dr. Edgar said he never wanted to make the closure into an election issue and that he had been trying to meet with Higgs and Health Minister Ted Flemming since they formed government last fall in order to discuss the clinic’s funding issues.

“I’ve absolutely made the premier and the health minister aware of these issues from the minute they took office,” he said.

“It just surprises me that they would suggest that this is something that was done as an election stunt because it’s actually something I’ve been knocking on their door and pleading to talk to them about for their entire time in office.”

Province remains unmoved

Global News has requested multiple interviews with Flemming over the past several weeks, but he has not been made available and has yet to answer questions about the issue.

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A statement from a department of health spokesperson said they are aware of the Horizon board’s motion.

“Our previous statement remains; the Province of New Brunswick’s position on abortions remains unchanged from that of the previous government. Abortions are available in publicly-funded hospitals in New Brunswick. There are also three family planning clinics in New Brunswick that provide counselling and services related to abortion,” wrote Bruce Macfarlane, spokesperson for the department of health.

Premier Higgs was also not made available for an interview.