Only Morgentaler Clinic in Maritimes to close
FREDERICTON - The contentious issue of abortion in New Brunswick arose Thursday after the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton said it will close at the end of July, a decision the facility's manager said was the result of the province's refusal to fund the procedure at clinics.
Simone Leibovitch said the clinic, which has been in operation for 20 years, has been providing abortions even though it has lost about $100,000 over the last decade.
"Dr. Morgentaler's policy was always such that no woman would ever be turned away from having an abortion, and we followed that policy," Leibovitch told a news conference.
"The reality is we can't continue to stay open and provide abortions that are not publicly funded. It's impossible."
Abortion isn't covered by medicare in the province unless two doctors certify in writing that it is medically necessary. It also must be performed by a specialist in an approved hospital.
"As far as I'm concerned, the solution to this problem is up to the government of New Brunswick," Leibovitch said.
"They need to repeal Regulation 84-20. It is a barrier to health care. It's always been a barrier to health care."
The regulation was introduced in 1984 and has been a source of controversy over the years. Pro-choice groups say it restricts a woman's right to seek an abortion in the province, and in 2005, the former federal Liberal government put pressure on New Brunswick to fund private abortion clinics, but it was rebuffed.
In 2002, Dr. Henry Morgentaler launched a lawsuit in a bid to force the provincial government to pay for the procedure at clinics. The case has been in limbo since Morgentaler died last May.
New Brunswick Health Minister Hugh Flemming, who also serves as the attorney general, refused to comment on the matter, citing the court proceedings.
"I can't discuss it," Flemming said as he walked away from reporters outside the legislature. "And secondly, the Medical Services Act has a position that is consistent with what the province has had for some time."
In the legislature, Liberal Opposition Leader Brian Gallant said he is pro-choice and called on the government to study the issue of access to abortion.
"Will the premier commit today to an independent review to settle the question of access, once and for all?" Gallant asked. "He would have myself and the Opposition's full co-operation and support."
The premier was not in the legislature.
Later, Flemming refused outside the legislature to state his personal position on the issue and said question period was not the proper forum for Gallant to seek a review.
Premier David Alward said the minister responsible — Flemming — commented on the matter and he had nothing further to add.
Peter Ryan, the executive director of the New Brunswick Right to Life Association, said he won't believe the clinic is closing until it shuts its doors.
"We feel this may very well be a trial balloon that they are floating in order to stir up public reaction and sympathy in order to mobilize more pressure on the government in favour of clinic funding," Ryan said.
"Until we see the 'For Sale' sign on the building, we're not going to be too jubilant."
Leibovitch said the clinic saw between 600 to 700 women annually, with about 10 per cent of them coming from Prince Edward Island.
Women who want publicly funded abortions in P.E.I. must go to a hospital outside the province with a doctor's referral.
The Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton charges between $700 and $850 for the procedure, depending on how far along a woman is in her pregnancy. It is the only Morgentaler Clinic in the Maritimes.
Leibovitch said she is heart-broken by the decision to close the clinic and worries women will be denied abortions if they don't have doctors who will make referrals.
"There's a problem of women who don't have doctors and there's a problem of women who have anti-choice doctors," she said.
Jula Hughes, a law professor at the University of New Brunswick and a supporter of the Morgentaler Clinic, said she fears women will look for less reputable places to terminate a pregnancy once the facility shuts down.
"The historical experience where we didn't have access to safe, legal abortions has been that women get severely injured in an attempt to access abortion in other ways," she said. "That would just be horrific beyond contemplation."