Edmonton is not gaining a new abortuary – the city’s Henry Morgentaler abortion mill is merely changing locations. But the secretive way it is doing so is causing nearly as much furor.

The Morgentaler abortuary is leaving the Canora location it has occupied for ten years and moving to Westmount, at 12409 – 109A Avenue, at an unknown date. Renovations have been underway for months, but local residents and businesses have only learned their new neighbour’s identity in the last few weeks.

Notices said only that the new business was a “medical clinic.” Helen Nolan, executive director of the 124th Street Business Association, told The Interim that workmen doing the renovations were mum on the type of clinic.

“It didn’t look to me like an ordinary doctor’s office. It looked like a high-security type of environment,” she said. “I phoned the property owner, and he said it was a medical clinic. I asked if he could specify what type, and he said no.”

Nolan called the Morgentaler abortuary to confirm the move: “They just said they didn’t see any need to broadcast it.” She said that since area residents have discovered the clinic is an abortuary, she has been “inundated with calls.”

The abortuary’s upcoming move has already led one tenant of the building to look for new digs. The Canadian Union of Public Employees local 474, which represents public school custodians, is leaving after four years on 124th Street.

“We have a variety of different ethnic backgrounds within our membership,” president Doug Luellman explained to The Interim. “We want to make sure our office is an environment where all our members can come.” The building has also been spraypainted three times already, he noted. “It’s a safety issue. Especially in the wake of what’s happened in New York.”

Luellman predicted the abortuary’s move will affect others, too: “Someone thinking of buying one of the new condos across the street is not going to buy because of what’s going in there. Once an injunction comes in, protests will move across the street. It’s the main drag.”

When Morgentaler’s Edmonton abortuary opened in 1991, there was public consultation. The Canora Community League appealed (unsuccessfully) to the City of Edmonton the decision to allow the clinic. A member of the city’s planning department told The Edmonton Journal that because the 124th Street area is already zoned for medical clinics, there was no notice and no avenue of appeal: “We have not been told, nor are we allowed to ask, what the medical clinic is for,” said Tim Beauchamp.

But Joanne Hatton, a member of Alberta Pro-Life’s executive, told The Interim that she knows someone who looked through building permits at city hall. “What she noticed was that all the other permits for health care facilities had the type of facility listed, if it was a dental or doctor’s office, for example, except this one,” she said. “To me, in terms of public acceptance, it’s like putting a hazardous waste facility in someone’s backyard and not telling them. It bugs pro-lifers that the city would be so complicit.”

Vancouver was also accommodating when an abortion mill there moved from Granville Street to Broadway Street last year. A protest-free bubble zone was enacted at the new location before the abortuary had even moved. A deal had to be reached between police and clinic staff to allow a group to protest at the new location, which was across the street from a Toys ‘R’ Us store and in the same building as a Ministry of Children and Families office. The manager of the Morgentaler abortuary did not return repeated calls for comment. Hatton can envisage a couple of reasons for the move. “They might need a bigger facility,” she speculated. “Since the province has started paying for abortions done in clinics, they’ve been busier.”

She thinks the abortuary was attracted by the neighbourhood that now rebuffs it. “Where they are now is a run-down, seedy part of town,” she noted. “In Toronto, the abortion clinic moved from a seedy to a high-rent, classy district. Abortion clinics and abortionists are always looking for credibility, because they have a very low status.” She wondered, “If they really believe they’re doing such wonderful things for women, that it’s such a positive part of society, why not do it openly?”