LEAF urges federal government to take concrete action to ensure the survival of New Brunswick’s Clinic 554

Clinic 554 is the only location in Fredericton, New Brunswick where abortions are offered. It is a freestanding medical facility that provides vital medical services for women, transgender, gender non-conforming, and 2SLGBTQ+ New Brunswickers. And it is in imminent danger of closing.Regulation 84-20 of New Brunswick’s Medical Services Payment Act limits funding for abortions to hospital settings. As a result of Regulation 84-20, abortions performed in Clinic 554 are not publicly funded, and those seeking surgical abortions in New Brunswick must pay for them out of pocket or travel to Moncton or Bathurst hospitals.Clinic 554 has been operating at a deficit in an effort to subsidize its abortion services. As its financial losses accumulate, its closure is imminent.

New Brunswick’s newly-elected majority government has maintained that there will be no repeal of Regulation 84-20; the government has promised to continue to limit health-care funding to in-hospital surgical abortion procedures.Safe and effective abortion access is fundamental to women, trans, and gender non-conforming people’s individual liberty, human dignity, self-respect, and essential humanity.This week, Megan Stephens, LEAF’s Executive Director and General Counsel, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau and Health Minister Hajdu urging them to take concrete steps to ensure this essential clinic can continue to operate. Read her letter below.

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September 21, 2020

Re: Action Required to Ensure the Survival of Clinic 554

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Hajdu,

I write in my capacity as Executive Director and General Counsel for LEAF (the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund) to advocate for the survival of Clinic 554. This Clinic is the only freestanding facility in New Brunswick to offer abortion care; it provides vital medical services for women and transgender, gender non-conforming, and 2SLGBTQ+ New Brunswickers. We at LEAF urge you to take concrete steps to ensure this essential clinic can continue to operate.

Safe and effective abortion access is fundamental to women, trans, and gender non-conforming people’s individual liberty, human dignity, self-respect, and essential humanity. Securing legal and safe abortion access has long been a part of LEAF’s work to advance gender equality.

Regulation 84-20, Schedule 2 (a.1) of New Brunswick’s Medical Services Payment Act (“Regulation 84-20”) has severely restricted access to abortions in New Brunswick by limiting funding for abortions to hospital settings. Clinic 554 is the only location where abortions are offered in Fredericton. As a result of Regulation 84-20, those seeking surgical abortions in New Brunswick must pay for them out of pocket or travel to Moncton or Bathurst hospitals.

Requiring women, trans, and gender non-conforming New Brunswickers to pay out of pocket for medically necessary services – or risk going without if they cannot drive to Moncton or Bathurst hospitals – is a violation of the Canada Health Act. The provincial government’s steadfast refusal to repeal Regulation 84-20 cannot be ignored. Although Clinic 554 has continued to operate, it has been doing so at a deficit in an effort to subsidize its abortion services.  As its financial losses accumulate, its closure is imminent.

I understand and appreciate that your government is aware of the financial struggles that Clinic 554 is facing.  In October 2019 while in Fredericton, Prime Minister Trudeau acknowledged the concerns for the clinic, and vowed that “[a] Liberal government will always defend women’s rights, including when challenged by Conservative premiers.” I further understand that the federal government had been withholding a small portion of New Brunswick’s health transfer payments in response to this concern, but stopped doing so when the pandemic first struck six months ago.

New Brunswick’s newly-elected majority government has maintained that there will be no repeal of Regulation 84-20; the government has promised to continue to limit health-care funding to in-hospital surgical abortion procedures.  I have been advised that Clinic 554 cannot afford to remain open unless Regulation 84-20 is repealed. It is in dire need of funding.

In the circumstances, we at LEAF urge you to take the following actions:

  • Reintroduce the deduction of a portion of the federal government’s health transfer payments to New Brunswick equivalent to the dollar amount that New Brunswickers have had to spend out of pocket to access out-of-hospital surgical abortions;
  • Redirect the equivalent of the funds withheld from the health transfer payment directly to Clinic 554 until Regulation 84-20 is repealed; and
  • Provide immediate and emergency funding to Clinic 554 until those health transfer payments are issued.

In closing, we ask that you do everything within your constitutional powers to ensure the survival of Clinic 554. Clinic 554’s services are irreplaceable and need immediate funding. Federal funding would be a temporary emergency measure to preserve the security and dignity interests and the equality rights of women, trans, and gender non-conforming people in the face of a provincial government that is violating its health care obligations.

Yours sincerely,

Megan Stephens
Executive Director and General Counsel