An anti-abortion group in Fredericton will rebuild its offices next to Clinic 554, a family practice that also offers abortions not covered by medicare.
The original New Brunswick Right to Life centre at 562 Brunswick Street was torn down after it was damaged in a fire in July 2016.
On Wednesday evening, the city’s Planning and Advisory Committee approved the charity’s application for a new two-storey clinic and office building.
Heather Hughes, property manager and executive director, said the group’s purpose is to provide information and support to women dealing with unexpected pregnancies.
The new building will include a Women’s Care Centre, offering pregnancy counselling, tests and limited obstetrical ultrasounds. The group hopes to start construction of its new building this year.
Hughes responded to concerns raised about the group moving back next door to the abortion clinic and said Right to Life “is strongly committed to the principles of civility and respect toward all members of the public.”
“The association has no interest in shaming anyone and we do not agree that our very presence next door somehow constitutes a form of shaming,” she said.
People in favour and against the group’s rebuilding plans were present at the meeting, though no one but Hughes spoke publicly. The committee also voted in favour of the construction permit without further discussion.
Sophie Lavoie, a member of Reproductive Justice New Brunswick, was one of several people who wrote to the committee prior to Wednesday’s meeting, asking it to reject Right to Life’s proposal.
Lavoie, who lives near the clinic, said she witnessed members of the anti-abortion group hold vigils and demonstrations in front of Clinic 554, formerly The Morgentaler Clinic, in the past. They harassed people seeking health care at the clinic and provided women with incomplete information about their options for dealing with a pregnancy, she said.
“They used to gather in the parking lot behind the Mother and Child House, so I’m sure those activities will be resuming and they are not very conducive to the Clinic 554 being able to do its job with peace of mind and privacy for the people who are going in there,” she said.
Other letter writers worried about being harassed when accessing the clinic for general health care services once the charity reopens.
Lavoie suggested that instead of allowing Right to Life to rebuild in the same location, council should have created legislation that restricts protesters around abortion clinics. Similar “bubble zone laws” were previously introduced in other Canadian provinces, including Newfoundland and B.C., she said.
“By having one [clinic] right next to the other, it makes for confrontation,” she said. “Apparently, women’s reproductive health is not something that the city…