A class-action lawsuit could be brought against the New Brunswick government for allegedly limiting abortion access in the province.
Dr. Adrian Edgar is the current owner of Clinic 554, the only clinic that performs out-of-hospital abortions in the province and one of the only providers of specialty LGBTQ2 care.
Edgar says he has been speaking with legal firm Koskie Minsky about a potential lawsuit and they are looking for people to consider becoming involved.
“We are definitely looking at a lawsuit, but in a way we’re asking the government to stop breaking the law and their response is ‘make us,'” Edgar said.
“It feels like we’re dealing with bullies on the Grade 6 playground instead of elected officials.”
“You shouldn’t have to sue your government to get them to stop breaking the law.”
Abortions performed at Clinic 554 in Fredericton are not funded by Medicare, leaving either patients or the clinic to cover costs. Right now, New Brunswickers can only access abortions in three hospitals across the province: two in Moncton and one in Bathurst.
The abortion pill mifegymiso is also available.
Clinic 554 has been for sale for about a year now and Edgar says the clinic can only keep its doors open until the end of September if nothing changes in how the province funds abortions.
When asked about the potential of a lawsuit, premier Blaine Higgs said he feels the province is not in violation of the Canada Health Act.
“That’s the advantage of living in Canada. If someone feels that we are not following the rules, the Canada Health Act in this case, then they have every right to bring it to a legal matter, make it a legal matter and challenge it,” he said.
“We certainly have asked that same question, in relation to what we’re doing in following the Canada Health Act and we have been given the advice that we are doing just that.”
But the federal government begs to differ. The federal department of health has found New Brunswick in violation because it does not fund out-of-hospital abortions, and earlier this year withheld $140,216 worth of the province’s health transfer payments.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the country, they released the funding, but say the same penalty will be levied next year should New Brunswick fail to make changes to abortion access in the province.
“Our government has been clear that women have a right to access reproductive services. As the Prime Minister has said, we will ensure that the New Brunswick government eliminates patient charges for abortion services outside of hospitals,” said Cole Davidson, the press secretary for federal Minister of Health Patty Hajdu.
“We will use all options available to defend a woman’s right to choose, including those that exist under the Canada Health Act.”
Higgs is no fan of those penalties.
“A federal government should not be dictating to a province, they should apply the laws of the land. We feel we are following the rules and the laws. If that’s challenged and it’s determined that we’re not then we’ll certainly correct that,” he said.
“But as far as someone trying to hold me ransom and dictate through a non-democratic, or non legal process, I have great difficulty with that.”
Premier has no plans to alter abortion access in N.B.
When asked if he has any plans to make changes to abortion services in the province, premier Blaine Higgs stood firm.
“We actually believe that, certainly in the last few years, they are indeed very accessible here in the province,” Higgs says.
“I think that we are very much in line with meeting our objectives and providing access as warranted and as needed.”
Higgs has also repeatedly suggested that funding abortions in clinics would erode the public health-care system and lead to the creation of a two-tier, public-private system.
But when asked by reporters what makes Clinic 554 different than any other family practice Higgs was unable to give an example.
“I mean the doctor is able to practice like any other physician for services that are provided and covered under the public health act and that’s his right and obligation to do so as a practising physician. I don’t think we’re restricting his ability to do that,” Higgs said.
Tasia Alexopoulos of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada says that the idea that Clinic 554 is a private health-care provider rests on a misunderstanding of how clinics operate in Canada.
“It’s not private health care. Clinic 554 is not a private health-care provider,” she said. “They are people’s family doctors. They offer covered medical services, so the government does provide funding to Clinic 554 for other services.”
“The only difference between Clinic 554 and another doctor’s office is that they also chose to provide abortions outside of the hospital system.”
Abortion rights group blocked by the premier
Additional attention has been on the issue since Alexopoulos discovered that the ARCC’s Twitter account had been blocked by the premier over the weekend. The premier said it had been done in error about a year ago and the account has since been unblocked.
But according to Alexopoulos the mistake has renewed focus on abortion access in the province.
“The silver lining there is that blocking us may have amplified our message which may be what we need to save this clinic and to save the very critical and important health-care services that they provide to New Brunswick,” she said.
A number of people chose to email and call Higgs and New Brunswick’s health minister Ted Flemming to try push for greater abortion access in the province.
Edgar says it has been nice to see the support, but he worries it may not be enough to save the clinic. He says he has been looking to meet with Higgs and Flemming for close to a year, but was recently told by Flemming that he has no interest in a meeting or in speaking about changes to abortion access.
When asked about meeting with Edgar, the premier said he would consider it.