Health Minister Doug Currie met with groups from both sides of the abortion debate Wednesday as he continues to be pressed by abortion service advocates and pro-lifers on the controversial issue.
P.E.I.'s abortion policies exploded into local and national headlines last month when a newly formed lobby group called the P.E.I. Reproductive Rights Organization (PRRO) called for abortion to be made available on P.E.I.
Prince Edward Island is the only province in Canada that does not provide any abortion services. The procedure is not done in Island hospitals and there are no private clinics that offer the service in the province. The government does pay for abortions off-Island, but only with a doctor referral and if done in a hospital. Private clinic abortions are not covered.
The three founding members of PRRO, as well as representatives from the P.E.I. Advisory Council on the Status of Women and the Women's Network, met with Currie Wednesday to push for abortion to be made available in P.E.I as well as an increase in available abortion information for women.
PRRO spokeswoman Sam Wight told reporters after the meeting she was pleased to be able to speak with the minister about the lack of access to this medical service in P.E.I.
"It was primarily a listening meeting, beginning to build the groundwork and start a relationship," Wight said.
Her group hopes to eventually see Currie's department take the lead and recruit doctors to perform abortions on P.E.I., she said.
"We are very hopeful. I know we will be planning on speaking with more doctors and seeing where everyone stands on this, but I think it's a real possibility and there's no reason why it shouldn't be."
Wight added she was happy to see Health P.E.I. already meeting some of their requests in providing more information on abortion services to P.E.I. women.
A new page has been created on the Health P.E.I. website with some basic information and links to a few women's groups and walk-in clinics. A letter was also sent from the department to the P.E.I. Medical Society, clarifying to doctors their roles and responsibilities when women are seeking an abortion.
"We're very happy to see that they have made steps forward to make information accessible. It's a really good start, and it is just a start. But it's really great to see," Wight said.
Currie also met with the P.E.I. Right to Life Association Wednesday, immediately following his meeting with the PRRO.
This was his first formal meeting with any groups advocating on the abortion issue.
As a result, he says he wants to take some time to assess the information he received from both groups before deciding on any course of action.
"Today's conversations were certainly a next step and very important for me to hear face-to-face the concerns and the issues that both organizations have," Currie said.
"We know it's a very divisive issue, both sides are very passionate about their positions, so it's allowing me to really understand the depth of both sides of the conversation... but I'm going to take a little bit of time, I'm going to reflect back on the conversations."
Currie said he's also looking at what is being done in other jurisdictions similar in population size to P.E.I. for comparison on what level of abortion services are available to residents.