Letter sent to N.B. health minister calls for support of Clinic 554

Clinic 554 in Fredericton, N.B., is shown on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. The only medical clinic offering abortions in New Brunswick announced its impending closure, blaming a provincial policy that refuses to fund surgical abortions outside a hospital. Advocates say rural Canadians across the country face barriers accessing abortions but a small number of clinics and strained healthcare systems make the issue especially pronounced in Atlantic provinces. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kevin Bissett. The Canadian Press/Kevin Bissett

Calls to prevent the closure of Clinic 554 are growing in New Brunswick as a letter was sent to the health minister Thursday morning.

The Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Chalmers Regional Hospital Dr. Christa Mullaly signed a letter to Minister Hugh Flemming, calling for support and funding of Clinic 554 –New Brunswick’s only facility offering abortions outside of hospitals.

“It is inexplicable that vasectomy, a reproductive surgical procedure performed on men, is funded by medicare when performed in or out of hospital, but abortion is not,” reads the letter.

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

The letter, provided to Global News by the Reproductive Justice N.B. (RJNB) group, states that Clinic 554 and its owner Dr. Adrian Edgar are “an irreplaceable resource.”

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New Brunswick is the only province in Canada that does not fund abortions outside of hospitals.

In addition, previous provincial governments have not repealed a regulation banning abortions outside of hospitals, which Edgar has previously said might cause him to shut down early.

Thursday’s letter says surgical abortion in New Brunswick is only truly accessible to the wealthy.

“Women of low socioeconomic status are often unable to access services and simply remain pregnant, at a high psycho-social and material cost to themselves and society,” the letter states.

Read more: Rally in Rothesay, N.B. keeps Clinic 554 an election issue

RJNB spokesperson Jessi Taylor says Clinic 554 was built on crowdfunding and volunteers.

Nearly six years later, it’s struggling due to the lack of support from the provincial government.

“We know that having access to abortion services is lifesaving,” Taylor says.

According to Taylor, the provincial health care system relies on Clinic 554 because it redirects patients to it once hospitals are full.

And, Taylor says Clinic 554 doesn’t turn people away. “When people can’t pay the $750 fee out of pocket, the people who run the clinic cover the costs.”

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“Now, the clinic is at risk of closure because the government continues to break the Canada Health Act, break federal legislation, by refusing to fund the services of the clinic,” Taylor says.

“The letter highlights how much is going to be lost.”

Click to play video: 'Future of Clinic 554 depends on election outcome, owner says' Future of Clinic 554 depends on election outcome, owner says
Future of Clinic 554 depends on election outcome, owner says – Aug 21, 2020

“Most physicians enter medicine to help people, but Dr. Edgar literally saves lives by supporting these patients and the LGBTQ+ community,” the letter states.

Abortion rights have been at the forefront of the provincial election campaigns.

Tory Premier Blaine Higgs has maintained that his policies are not in violation of the Canada Health Act.

He has also said that if he’s returned to power after Sept. 14, he will not change the province’s directive.

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When pressed on the difference between funding an abortion performed in a private clinic and a vasectomy, a surgical procedure for male sterilization, Higgs said he was “not a medical expert.”

Read more: PC Leader Blaine Higgs offers shifting answers on abortion funding in New Brunswick

Taylor says the changes needed to make the clinic sustainable, are “very quick, very easy and fairly inexpensive” for the government.

She says funding Clinic 554 would actually be saving the province money.

“Even if we’re just talking about abortion services, they’re cheaper than providing them in hospital… People being able to access services through their family doctor instead of booking up our ER rooms has also been shown to be much more cost-effective.”

According to the letter, the clinic’s services “should be supported and compensated appropriately as an invaluable service to our community with a high return-on-investiment relative to other programmes.”

– With files from Silas Brown

Editor’s note: This article was updated 4:10 p.m. AT, Sept. 10, 2020. A previous version of the article incorrectly stated that Reproductive Justice N.B. was one of the solicitors of the letter. The group provided the letter to Global News, but was not a signatory on it. Global News regrets the error. 


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