© Photo special to The Guardian
Dr. Henry Morgentaler led the campaign for the legalization of abortion. On Thursday, it was announced his only Maritime clinic in Fredericton, New Brunswick was being closed.
P.E.I. women will face greater difficulty receiving safe and timely abortions after the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton closes, says a local women’s advocacy group.
The clinic announced it is closing in the summer after 20 years of providing abortions in the city because it is losing money.
Approximately 10 percent of abortions provided at the clinic were for women from Prince Edward Island. That works out to 60 to 70 women each year, according to a staff person at the clinic.
The P.E.I. Advisory Council on the Status of Women is concerned that after the closure of the clinic only one option will remain open for P.E.I. women seeking a surgical abortion: to travel to the QEII in Halifax.
The process of getting a termination of pregnancy in Halifax still requires a referral from two doctors in P.E.I. and preparatory ultrasounds here as well. The province pays for the procedure itself but does not cover any travel or accommodation costs.
At the private clinic now scheduled to close in N.B., all costs are paid by the women who use their services, although the clinic has always committed to provide services regardless of a woman’s ability to pay. The Advisory Council noted many Island women have accessed their subsidies.
Over the years, half of P.E.I. women seeking abortions have used the services of the private clinic in Fredericton - the only private option in the Maritime provinces.
“It remains to be seen how long it will be financially tenable for the Prince Edward Island government and health-care system to block access to his medically simple and straightforward procedure,’’ says Jane Ledwell, executive director of the P.E.I. Advisory Council on the Status of Women.
“Blocking local access is bad from a moral, medical, and financial perspective, and all the more so with the closure of the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton.’’
Collen MacQuarrie, a UPEI psychology professor who has conducted research on the effects of the lack of abortion services for Island women, has spoke strongly the past couple years on the harm resulting from P.E.I. not providing traditional surgical abortions in-province.
She says many P.E.I. women endure great harm from a policy that forces them to leave the Island to have a safe, surgical abortion.
MacQuarrie has heard from a number of women who self-induced abortion in P.E.I. She said some did damage to their bodies where they can no longer carry a pregnancy. Some were bruised so badly, they stayed away from school. Others became quite ill.
“Suicide has been considered by some,’’ she told The Guardian in an interview in October.
“When you limit options, it breeds desperation.’’
Prince Edward Island is the only province in the country that does not provide any abortion services within the province.
P.E.I. Health Minister Doug Currie says nothing will change with P.E.I.’s abortion policies, despite the fact the only private clinic in the Fredericton will soon close.
“We, as a government, fund abortions though our P.E.I. medicare system but they have to be performed not in private clinics, but in hospitals,” Currie said.
He added Health P.E.I. would have conversations with the Medical Society of P.E.I. to ensure doctors inform Island women about their options.
“We will continue to support abortion services… but that service, like a range of services, will continue to be performed outside the province.”
Opposition Leader Steven Myers said he is more focused on other health services and needs not being met by the province.
“I’m trying to keep my head wrapped around how do we get doctors in the province and how do we get people in to get their knee operated on… there’s many, many issues with health care and I guess if I was going to prioritize them today those ones that I’ve talked about today would be very high up on my list,” Myers said.
With files from Teresa Wright