St. Thomas University grad Olivier Hébert emotionally addressed the crowd of about 100 people protesting the closure of Clinic 554, New Brunswick’s only private abortion clinic, on Oct. 11.
“Our doctors and our province and our health care system need to step up to the plate and educate themselves and understand that not providing health care for us can be a death sentence in a very real way.”
Hébert is one of the organizing activists for Save Clinic 554, led by advocacy group Reproductive Justice New Brunswick. He spoke on behalf of the campaign at the protest, organized outside of Health Minister Ted Flemming’s office on King Street.
Save Clinic 554 is a Facebook page with more than 2,000 likes. The page aims to prevent the closure of the clinic. They circulated brochures at the protest, asking people to email and phone Flemming’s office to state the importance of the clinic.
For Hébert, who’s a transgender man, the closure of the clinic is personal.
“I don’t want to get pregnant, because trying to get an abortion is already hard enough in this province. And getting an abortion as a trans man sounds impossible. It’s not even something I want to try and navigate.”
Clinic 554 is a family practice located downtown Fredericton on Brunswick Street. It’s the only place in New Brunswick that provides abortion services outside of Moncton and Bathurst. People who are up to 13 weeks and six days pregnant can get an abortion at the Chaleur Regional Hospital, Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre and the Moncton Hospital. It’s free for people with a New Brunswick Medicare card.
Clinic 554 performs abortions for people who are up to 16 weeks pregnant, however, they are not covered by medicare. The cost ranges from $700 to $850, depending on how far along the patient is.
Abbey LeJeune, a STU third-year sociology and environmental studies major, attended the protest. LeJeune goes by they/them pronouns.
Four years ago, LeJeune said they fought the closure of the Morgentaler clinic, now Clinic 554, with the Fredericton Youth Feminists, an activist group. They said it’s important for students to have access to Clinic 554 because it provides health care for a lot of queer and transgender people in Fredericton.
“It’s very queer here. At St. Thomas, we have a lot of queer students and that’s a big part of our community.”
LeJeune said if the clinic closes, people might choose to stop coming to Fredericton for university and will go to provinces that have proper coverage for services like abortions.
“Without this, they’ll lose a huge chunk of students and a huge part of our community.”
The building is now up for sale because the provincial government said they don’t fund private healthcare services, including abortion services provided by Clinic 554.
In an email statement sent to The Aquinian, the Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane said “The Province of New Brunswick’s position on abortions remains unchanged from that of the previous government. Abortions are available in publicly-funded hospitals in New Brunswick. The Government of New Brunswick does not fund private healthcare services.”
Without this funding, they say they can’t afford to keep the clinic open.
Dr. Adrian Edgar is the medical director at Clinic 554. He said he’s been overwhelmed by the support from doctors in the community who “can’t believe that our health minister would allow a vital resource to be lost in New Brunswick.”
“I think that that’s the next question we need to ask is, ‘why?’ Why are they holding onto regulation that gives health care to some and not others?”
Edgar said he wants this question answered so he can see how the provincial government values the health of queer people, people with HIV, people with addiction and the health of people who need an abortion.
Elizabeth May, the Green Party of Canada leader, was present at the protest along with newly elected Fredericton Green Party Member of Parliament Jenica Atwin.
Fredericton South MLA David Coon was unable to attend but sent constituency coordinator Taeyon Kim on his behalf.
May said it was ironic and saddening the clinic closure was announced during an election campaign where a women’s right to an abortion was highly discussed.
“A key point of accessibility for women … as well as for the LGBTQ+ community, is threatened to the closing imminently because of the decision by the Conservative government here in New Brunswick,” May said.
“Clinic 554 needs to stay open. The federal government needs to provide the funding to ensure it stays open.”
Three months ago, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada started a petition for the federal government to ensure funding for Clinic 554. Another petition, started five months ago by Clinic 554 manager Valerie Edelman directed towards the provincial government, had more than 9,600 signatures by The Aquinian’s print time.
LeJeune said the closing of Clinic 554 would be detrimental to the queer community and anyone with a uterus. They hope students speak out and share this cause to influence their family and people in Fredericton.
“You have to tell people about this and get them to do something. Not only people who are queer and trans need to fight this but everybody; We need everybody’s voices in on this.”
Clarification: The original story said Clinic 554 is a private clinic. It’s a family clinic, but also provides private abortion services.