FREDERICTON - NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh visited a Fredericton abortion clinic Saturday that is struggling to remain open because New Brunswick does not cover abortions performed outside hospitals.
Singh voiced his support for Clinic 554 and met with medical director Adrian Edgar.
The clinic's fate drew attention to the provincial policy and became a focal point on the issue of abortion access during the fall federal election.
In October, Dr. Edgar announced that the only clinic in New Brunswick offering out-of-hospital abortions would be put up for sale as a "direct result" of the province's failure to fund the procedure.
"Thank you to Dr. Adrian Edgar and everyone who is working at, and fighting to save, Clinic 554," Singh posted to Twitter after the visit. "They do so much to provide care to many across New Brunswick. Safe and accessible abortion services must be protected."
Earlier this week, Singh called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to intervene and save the clinic, saying the New Brunswick government's actions contravene the Canada Health Act.
"To me, it's meaningless to talk about a woman's right to choose unless you're willing to back that up by protecting that access to that right," Singh said.
"The prime minister is not using the tools that he has at his disposal to put pressure on New Brunswick government to make sure that they keep that clinic open."
The provincial Health Department and Premier Blaine Higgs have defended the policy, saying the province does not fund private health care services and abortions are still available in hospitals.
Clinic 554's fate received national attention from federal party leaders, including Singh, Trudeau and then-Green party Leader Elizabeth May during the fall election.
During an October campaign stop in Fredericton, Trudeau promised to use "all tools at our disposal" to enforce the Canada Health Act. Singh criticized Trudeau at the time for being too slow to act, saying he had four years to protect access in New Brunswick.
May, who has stepped down as the overall party leader but is still the head of the Greens' three-member caucus, has also discussed the issue of abortion access in New Brunswick with Trudeau since his Liberal party was re-elected as a minority government on Oct. 21.
Dr. Edgar said the clinic is still facing uncertainty about bills each month, but he's more optimistic than he was two months ago after hearing pledges of support from three federal leaders and recent discussion of the issue in the provincial legislature.
He said he was encouraged by Trudeau's focus on healthcare in this week's throne speech and the "fantastic" show of support from Singh on Saturday.
"It was a real honour to host Mr. Singh," Dr. Edgar said by phone. "I really do hope people all across Canada are still watching, I hope they're not forgetting about New Brunswick."
The medical director said he's contacted the attorney general for an opinion on whether the provincial government's policy is lawful and is waiting for a response.
Despite the provincial government's unmoving stance on the policy, Dr. Edgar said he's going to continue fighting for his clinic's patients, including some who travel from Prince Edward Island for abortion services, and 3,000 patients who will lose their family doctor if the clinic closes.
"This is as far as we've ever come. I think we have to keep moving," he said. — By Holly McKenzie-Sutter in St. John's, N.L. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2019.