2014 brought many changes to New Brunswick. After struggling financially for many years, the Maritime Provinces’ only abortion clinic announced its closure in the spring and shut its doors in July.
Once the announcement was made, a grass roots movement took hold in Fredericton. What started as reactionary rallies hosted by the Fredericton Youth Feminists, and an ad hoc committee, evolved and has grown into a feminist collective named Reproductive Justice New Brunswick.
During New Brunswick’s provincial election, RJNB and their allies across the province succeeded in bringing the abortion access issue to the forefront of the campaign. For the first time, New Brunswick’s provincial parties had to campaign with abortion and reproductive health issues as a part of their platforms. We are extremely pleased to see that New Brunswickers have voted for access.
Knowing that at best the government would be slow to act or increase services, New Brunswickers decided to do it themselves. RJNB met with a doctor who was living in Vancouver but originally from New Brunswick. After meeting with him and his partner, RJNB started an online crowd-funding campaign to raise money in order to help purchase the clinic and bring the doctor and his partner, a social worker, to New Brunswick. With the purchase of the clinic, they opened a family practice that will also include abortions as part of its services.
RJNB’s campaign was incredibly successful. Thanks to donations from people and organizations from across North America, we raised over $125 000 to put towards the purchase of the former Morgentaler clinic. The former clinic was still sitting empty and already had the setup and equipment of a family doctor’s office, as well as the safety features intended to protect abortion providers and their staff from violence. The community buying and implementing our own clinic, while still holding the government accountable, was a game changer. As far as we know, this is the first crowd-sourced clinic in North America.
Clinic 554 reached out many times to the provincial government, and did have a meeting prior to the clinic opening, but the government delegates made it clear they would not be interested in taking part in the opening of the clinic. Unfortunately, the Department of Health and the two health authorities in New Brunswick (Vitalité and Horizon) have a history of not utilizing resources we already have.
In the late fall, the new Liberal government made an announcement that they were amending the regulation 84-20, which required two doctors to sign off on any person’s hospital abortion, and required that it be done by a specialist. It was exciting to know that the government was finally talking about abortion, and trying to make changes. Unfortunately, while these requirements are no longer necessary at the provincial level, they can still be enforced in practice by the two hospitals. Information services, and knowledge about the hoops that patients need to jump through, continue to be inconsistent and hard to find.
Informational services like New Brunswick TeleCare also continue to give out misinformation. This is compounded by a piece of legislation left unchanged, stating that Medicare will only cover procedures performed in a hospital. People are still having problems accessing hospital abortions. There continues to be a 6 week waiting list at the hospital. Also, they are still only doing procedures under 13.6 week gestation. Even without adding the confidentiality or adequate care concerns that come with hospital abortions, it is easy to see why clinic services remain so essential in our province. Instead of TeleCare, we refer folk to Action Canada who supply people with information about abortion from a supportive volunteer. They are a fantastic organization and have compiled a directory compiled for services in each province. (1-888-642-2725 or http://www.sexualhealthandrights.ca/)
RJNB victoriously rang in the new year with Clinic 554, which opened its doors in January. Clinic 554 also runs a family practice four days a week. They have taken on 600 patients from the family doctor waiting list, and is also accepting LGBTQ patients, as well as HIV+ and Hep C+ patients. Clinic 554 continues to prioritize the most marginalized folks in our community (and those who have to travel to it). Due to the government’s refusal to pay for procedures performed in clinic settings (despite providing better care and being cheaper than hospital abortions), patients seeking abortion services continue to pay out of pocket ($700-$850).
Vitalité, the health authority that was already been performing abortions in Chaleur Hospital in Bathurst and George Dumont hospital in Moncton, chose not to increase access to abortion services in other hospitals despite the amendment of 84-20. Horizon has recently announced that it will be allowing abortion services at the Moncton City Hospital. While increasing services in Moncton in lieu of providing additional services in any other part of the province is a slap in the face of rural New Brunswickers, we are grateful that a third location has opened which provides Medicare funded services.
Clinic 554 is a model of reproductive justice that we would like to see implemented across New Brunswick. Clinic 554 is patient-driven and committed to best practices, respect, inclusiveness, equity, advocacy, and patient empowerment. Clinic 554 believes “healthcare is a patient-driven process centered upon caring, safety, and respect. We believe harm-reduction is an essential approach to healthcare, and that patients have a right to self-affirming services. We are committed to sex-positive, gender-celebratory care, anti-racist and feminist practices, and full-scope reproductive care, including abortions.”
We see our struggles in the context of other important social justice movements of New Brunswick. We also realize that success for any of us means working for all of us. To that end we are proud to support and are honoured to be backed by the Fredericton Youth Feminists, NB Families for Midwives, Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, Cinema Politica Fredericton, New Brunswick Federation of Labour, Fredericton District Labor Council, CUPE New Brunswick 176, Public Service Alliance, NB Coalition for Pay Equity. The struggles of our partners ARE reproductive justice issues.
It is our partnerships and collaboration across struggles that not only make us strong, but which enable us change the game and work outside a system that benefits from silenced and siloed struggles.
We are still lobbying the government to support clinic services. Until then, we continue to look into different ways of assisting patients to pay for clinic abortions. We are excited to host a reproductive health clinic, which sees patients from across the Maritimes and which specializes in LGBTQ health. The hard work of this past year, and of the decades of activism by New Brunswick feminists, have not only increased access to desperately needed services but reaffirmed that New Brunswickers must demand better.
For more information on abortion access in New Brunswick, check out our zine!