Health Centre to Offer Abortions in Former Morgentaler Clinic

Health centre to offer abortions in former Morgentaler Clinic

 FREDERICTON Private abortion services will soon be offered in the province again.   On Friday morning, Reproductive Justice New Brunswick held a news conference at the new Clinic 554 in downtown Fredericton, in the same building where the old Morgentaler Clinic shut its doors in July due to a lack of funding.  

The activist group helped raise money for a new family practice and clinic that will be run by Dr. Adrian Eoin Edgar, who will also offer services to 600 patients looking for a family doctor and under-serviced communities, including transgender people, patients who are newly infected with sexually transmitted diseases and HIV,and gay,lesbian and bisexual patients.   “There’s still a long way to go for abortion services,” said Reproductive Justice spokeswoman Jessi Taylor, who was surrounded by seven other female supporters.   She noted women will have to pay for an abortion at the small practice, even if it’s faster and more discreet than a big hsopital setting.   “These kind of clinics follow best practices. Not only is it better for the patient, and the staff that run the place, it would be more financially sustainable for the government. So on all of those levels, I don’t understand why the government wouldn’t be really enthusiastic of the possibility of using the resources we already have to provide these services to our citizens.”  

The doctor did not make an appearance at the news conference, which was by invitation only. There was security access at the door in the clinic that has bullet-proof windows and a blast-proof foundation. Instead, Edgar, who’s also practised in Saint John and Vancouver, issued a written statement.   “We just wanted to do our part to contribute – to make sure all New Brunswickers have access to the same quality and range of healthcare services that other provinces have.”  

People against abortion were upset about the announcement. Peter Ryan, executive director of New Brunswick Right to Life, fired off a statement of his own.   “We are not exactly celebrating the news,”he said.“It’s nothing short of a disaster for women’s health, and worse for the babies of our province. It seems they bill themselves as providing ‘reproductive services.’ That’s a misnomer, when most of the so-called services are about preventing – or putting an end to – reproduction.

Certainly when dead babies up to 16 weeks gestation are part of your menu of services, that’s as anti-reproductive as you can get.”   Ryan said whatever else the clinic may offer, an abortion clinic was still an abortion clinic.   “Thousands of lives have been prematurely ended at this site, thousands of women have had to deal with emotional and physical injury from abortion.I wonder why any sane person would want to be become a patient at such a place. I suppose desperate people will be tempted, which will be so sad”  

The New Brunswick Right to Life office is right next door, and Ryan encouraged women seeking counselling to go to its facility instead, including the Women’s Care Center, which offers support for women facing pregnancy and help in dealing with abortion aftermath.  

Meanwhile, the website for Clinic 554   – it’s named after the address on Brunswick Street – says it will offer services to families and help under-serviced communities.It will act as a needle exchange and offer testing and treatment for communicable diseases such as HIV,STIs and Hep C. It will also offer an array of specialized reproductive health services, including contraceptive counselling, IUD insertion and removal, biopsies of the uterus, and pregnancy management options including emergency IUD insertions and abortions.  

A staff member said Friday the clinic had begun seeing a few patients, but had not performed any abortions yet. The service will be offered in the coming weeks, with no definitive date set.   Reproductive Justice raised more than $150,000 to help improve abortion access for women following the clinic’s July closure. It turned over most of that money, about $125,000, to the doctor, who used it to help purchase the building from the Morgentaler estate.The rest of the money, raised from about 1,500 donors, was provided to the for-profit website that managed the fundraising campaign.  

Allison Webster,the treasurer of the activist group, said she did not know exactly how much the doctor paid for the building, but it was considerably more than $125,000 because the building has expensive security features, and the deal included much of the equipment.   She said better abortion services were badly needed in New Brunswick since the clinic closed mid-summer.   “It’s been really difficult,”Webster said. “We’ve been answering messages and emails and phone calls from people who are really desperate.”  

Many of the services at the clinic will be publicly funded,but not abortion,because the provincial government refuses to pay for it outside of a hospital setting. Clinic 554 will charge between $700 to $850 for an abortion, depending on how long a woman has been pregnant.  

Green party Leader David Coon was the only politician to attend Friday’s conference. The clinic is in the riding he represents,and he has long supported greater access to abortion.   “It’s wonderful to have a new family practice in Fredericton. As all too many people know, there’s a shortage of doctors in Fredericton and this is going to help, taking on 600 patients as well as providing a full suite of reproductive health services and being a welcoming practice for the LBGTQ community,”he said,referring to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.   Coon said he was looking forward to meeting the new doctor.   “Our family doesn’t have a family doctor, and we are looking for one too.”  

The clinic, which was once owned by the late Dr.Henry Morgentaler,closed its doors in July after his estate abandoned a drawn-out and expensive legal dispute with the province. Abortion rights advocates, including Fredericton Youth Feminists, pledged to reopen it and began a concerted fundraising effort.   The Morgentaler Clinic had typically performed 600 abortions a year, with women paying a fee to use the service unless they couldn’t afford it. About 400 abortions were performed annually in two New Brunswick hospitals under the old rules that required two doctors to sign off on a woman’s request for an abortion and a specialist to perform the procedure, a restrictive policy that was unique in Canada.  

The abortion debate became an election issue when the clinic announced in April its impending closure.The Progressive Conservatives favoured the status quo on the divisive issue, but the incoming Liberal government led by Premier Brian Gallant said it would remove the two-doctor restriction,and did so on Jan.   1. People against abortion deplored the decision,arguing the government had no right to end more lives of the unborn.  

The province expects to pay up to $700,000 extra a year to provide as many as 1,100 abortions annually for New Brunswick women. Only two hospitals offer the service – the Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst and Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton, both run by the Vitalité Health Network, whose main working language is French.

Both hospitals are located on the eastern side of New Brunswick.   Horizon Health Network, whose primary working language is English and serves about two-thirds of New Brunswick’s population, does not offer abortion services, although it pledged to come up with a plan after the Liberal government said it had to make changes.   “Horizon is making preparations to begin offering this service in April”said John McGarry, Horizon’s president and CEO, in an email Friday.“We will be reviewing the situation as we learn more on expected volumes as a result of this development.”  

The activists say hospital abortion services are not enough because they typically have long wait times and the travel for many women can be difficult, especially in winter. A woman in Edmundston, for example, would have to travel more than three ho=urs to get to the Bathurst hospital for an abortion.



This clinic in Fredericton, which used to be run by the late Dr. Henry Morgentaler, closed its doors in July after a long legal dispute with the province.   Photo: StePhen MacGillivray/the Daily Gleaner archive

From left are: Allison Webster, treasurer; and Jessi Taylor, spokeswoman.   Photo: StePhen MacGillivray/the Daily Gleaner