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Protest held as Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton performs final abortions

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The late Henry Morgentaler is pictured at his Fredericton clinic on Nov. 13, 1998 shortly after its opening. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bob Wilson

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The late Henry Morgentaler is pictured at his Fredericton clinic on Nov. 13, 1998 shortly after its opening. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bob Wilson

FREDERICTON - The only private clinic in New Brunswick to offer abortions performed the last of the procedures Friday as appeals to the provincial government to remove restrictions fell on deaf ears.

Protesters marched from the Morgentaler Clinic to the provincial legislature calling on the government to improve access to abortion, saying the regulations now in place effectively deny women their reproductive rights.

"It is very sad to see the clinic close and also very scary because with the clinic closing we lose 60 per cent of access to abortions in New Brunswick," said Sorcha Beirne, who helped organize the rally.

"We're losing access to health care and we're losing a little bit of hope."

The Morgentaler Clinic closes at the end of the month, which abortion rights supporters say marks a critical point in their struggle to have Regulation 84-20 of the province's Medical Services Payment Act repealed.

By law, a woman in New Brunswick who wants an abortion covered by medicare must have two doctors certify in writing that it is medically necessary and the procedure must be carried out by a specialist in one of two approved hospitals. Once the clinic closes, those two hospitals will be the only facilities in the province where abortions will be provided.

The Morgentaler Clinic cited losses of about $100,000 over the last decade in its decision to shut down after 20 years, saying it couldn't afford to continue providing abortions that are not publicly funded.

The clinic said it performed more than 600 abortions annually. About 400 abortions are done each year at the two hospitals, according to the province's Health Department.

Federal Green leader Elizabeth May, whose party is holding a convention in Fredericton, addressed the rally outside the legislature. May said the situation in New Brunswick warrants the country's attention.

"No woman denied access to safe, legal abortion anywhere in Canada is less than a national concern," May said.

"This is going to mean that women in New Brunswick do not have equal access."

Many of the protesters carried coat hangers or signs with an "X" over a coat hanger and the words "Never again." About 150 people attended the rally, according to a legislature commissionaire.

No one from the provincial Progressive Conservative government attended the demonstration. The government has consistently held by its position that there is no need for change because women will still have access to abortions that are medically necessary and approved by two physicians.

Opposition member Roger Melanson tried to reassure the protesters with the provincial Liberal position that his party will review Regulation 84-20 if it forms government after the election set for Sept. 22. But the olive branch was batted away as he was greeted with jeers of "Not good enough!"

Provincial New Democrat leader Dominic Cardy promised to outright repeal the law.

For years, the issue of abortion access in New Brunswick has been politically thorny. Successive provincial governments of both Liberal and Tory stripes have resisted calls to change abortion access laws.

Only a couple of opponents of abortion stood near the protesters as they marched past. Andy Tuckey said he was glad the clinic was closing, calling it an evil place.

"When I walk by that clinic, I feel the devil beside me," he said.

Simone Leibovitch, the clinic's manager, said it is setting up a hotline to provide advice for women seeking abortions. She said they will be referred to hospitals or Morgentaler Clinics operating in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto.

A group called Reproductive Justice NB has launched a crowdfunding effort to keep the clinic open. The group has raised more than $111,000 but it remains unclear whether that will allow for the resumption of abortions at the facility as negotiations to reach a lease agreement continue with the building's owners.

History

Updated on Friday, July 18, 2014 at 10:31 PM CDT: Corrects name of NB NDP leader Dominic Cardy.

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