Friday, May 19, 2006

New Brunswick hospital stops doing abortions

"We're too busy," doctors say.
A hospital that performs nearly all of New Brunswick's publicly funded abortions will suspend the service on June 30, citing workload problems.

Last year, New Brunswick's Medicare system paid for 404 abortions. Of those, 400 were provided by the River Valley Health Authority in Fredericton – most of them at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital.

One other hospital in the Fredericton area had been providing the service, but stopped a few months ago.

Dr. Bill Cook, the vice-president of medical affairs at the Chalmers, said it's up to individual doctors to decide whether they want to perform abortions. The Chalmers obstetrics department is understaffed and overworked, he says, and doctors there are cutting the abortion service to slacken their load.

The decision to stop providing abortions at the Chalmers Hospital means there are virtually no more publicly funded options for women with unwanted pregnancies in New Brunswick.

That leaves the privately run Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton as the only remaining option, but abortions there cost between $500 and $750. Last year, approximately 600 women obtained abortions at the Morgentaler Clinic.

Clinic managers are pushing the provincial government to fund its service under the Canada Health Act. Former clinic director Judy Burwell said many people can't afford the procedures.

Without the hospital, Burwell worries women will be denied access to safe and timely abortions. "It's going to put additional stress on the clinic to meet that need. Our concern is more the stress it's putting on women who may now have to wait longer even to get into the clinic."

New Brunswick is the only province in Canada that forces women to pay fully for abortions performed at private clinics. Under the Health Act, when a woman gets an abortion at a private clinic, the province is supposed to pay for the procedure.

Some provinces pay the entire cost. Others partly reimburse the patient. In New Brunswick, the government refuses to recognize private clinics.

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