Push to save Clinic 554 intensifies during N.B. election campaign

Click to play video: 'Future of Clinic 554 depends on election outcome, owner says'
Future of Clinic 554 depends on election outcome, owner says
The owner of New Brunswick’s only facility offering abortions outside of hospitals, Clinic 554, says the future of his clinic hinges on the outcome of the election. Tim Roszell has the story – Aug 21, 2020

The owner of New Brunswick’s only facility offering abortions outside of hospitals believes the future of his clinic rides on the results of the provincial election.

Dr. Adrian Edgar, managing director of Clinic 554 in Fredericton, had previously stated the clinic would close at the end of September because previous provincial governments have not repealed a regulation, known as Regulation 84-20, banning abortions outside of hospitals.

Edgar’s patients pay $700 to $850 for an abortion, while all other services he provides are paid for through provincial health care. The provincial government pays for abortions at hospitals in Moncton and Bathurst.

Edgar has explored a class-action lawsuit over abortion access in the province.

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He said there is “no defence” for Regulation 84-20 to still be in use.

“I think it’s a policy in place to punish women and stigmatize them for accessing health care,” Edgar said. “Because the health care they’re trying to access is one that people have different perspectives on and that’s not the law.”

Ottawa believes the regulation violates the Canada Health Act.

Click to play video: 'Owner of Clinic 554 still looking for buyer'
Owner of Clinic 554 still looking for buyer

It withheld more than $140,000 in health transfer payments to New Brunswick earlier this year as a penalty, only to restore the funding when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

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Jessi Taylor of Reproductive Justice New Brunswick said Regulation 84-20 puts unnecessary financial strain on patients.

“When patients can’t afford services, that actually gets offloaded to the clinic, which doesn’t turn people away. And so this really important community service that’s built by community, that was funded by community, is really at risk of disappearing.”

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Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada executive director Joyce Arthur said New Brunswick is the only province in Canada that does not fund abortions outside of hospitals.

She said it would be “devastating” if Clinic 554 were forced to close permanently.

“This clinic is serving thousands of patients,” Arthur said. “Many patients that don’t have a family doctor, the LGBT community, especially transgender people, specialized care that they can’t get anywhere else in the province.”

Advocates for saving the clinic are holding a rally Saturday at a campground in St. Stephen, roughly 30 minutes south of a campaign stop for Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs.

A demonstration is also planned for Aug. 27 in the Rothesay riding of PC candidate Ted Flemming, who was health minister in Higgs’ government.

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick will not fund out of hospital abortions during COVID-19 pandemic'
New Brunswick will not fund out of hospital abortions during COVID-19 pandemic

All four parties with seats in the legislature at dissolution addressed Clinic 554 on Friday.

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Higgs said a returning Conservative government would defend its position in court, if necessary.

“The mechanism, if anyone believes that we are not following (the Canada Health Act) is to challenge that,” Higgs said, at a stop in Blackville, N.B. “And that would go through the court system and a ruling will be made and we will, obviously, abide by the ruling that’s made.”

Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers told Global News in an email that the party is “committed to maintaining funding for Clinic 554.”

“The province of New Brunswick has an obligation to provide sufficient access to reproductive services. If it is not able to do so, we would be prepared to address any obstacles including regulatory ones,” he said.

Green Party Leader David Coon said his party would repeal Regulation 84-20. People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin said he would not change the status quo.

Edgar said parties seem fearful of losing voters if they support abortions outside of hospitals.

Click to play video: 'Federal health minister says New Brunswick has to change policy on out of hospital abortions'
Federal health minister says New Brunswick has to change policy on out of hospital abortions

“I think they could just speak with people intelligently and say, ‘We’re paying for abortions right now, we’re just paying twice as much,'” he said. “We’re providing abortions in hospitals. Your tax money’s doing that. That’s the reality in New Brunswick. We’re just not doing it equally or fairly across the province.”

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One week ago, Edgar said he was certain the clinic would close next month. He said the provincial election offers some hope.

“I can’t continue to fund an operating room and team from my own income as a family doctor,” Edgar said. “That’s a provincial responsibility. The province has failed to step up to that. So I won’t be able to continue Clinic 554. That’s not to say that abortions are going to stop at Clinic 554.

“It’s very possible that another Dr. (Henry) Morgentaler is going to continue this service and move on with this scenario, but in a way that it was before I brought all the other services to the province.”

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