© Guardian photo
Jane Ledwell, National Coalition of Advisory Councils on the Status of Women, speaks as Bronwym Rodd, left, PRRO, and Ann Wheatly, ARN looks on.
Charlottetown will host a flagship rally for a national reproductive justice action day today as organizers try to shine a light on the province’s continued lack of abortion services.
An ad hoc coalition of women’s groups and labour organizations have joined with the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) to hold a pan-Canadian day of action in cities across the country.
Prince Edward Island was chosen as the focus for this event due to it being the only province in Canada that still does not offer any abortion services.
Joyce Arthur, executive director of ARCC, pointed out that it has been 25 years since the Supreme Court ruling that struck down a previous law prohibiting abortions in Canada. Yet the procedure is still not available in Island hospitals or clinics.
“Even the three territories provide this service,” Arthur said.
“It’s time for this situation to end. There’s just no excuse anymore. All Canadian women deserve equitable access to this medically required service.”
She called it a travesty that P.E.I. women must travel out of province for abortions and they must pay for abortions at the closest clinic in Fredericton.
The provincial government does cover the cost of the procedure off-Island, but only when done in a hospital and if a woman has been referred by a doctor. The closest hospital that performs the service is the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Halifax.
The province will not put any money towards abortions performed at private clinics, like the Mogentaler clinic in Fredericton.
Fees at private clinics, where a doctor’s referral is not needed, range from $600 to $900.
The province also does not fund travel or other incidentals associated with travelling out-of-province for this procedure.
Bronwyn Rodd is with the P.E.I. Reproductive Right Organization (PRRO), a group of young women that mobilized a year ago and began publicly pushing for the provincial government to change its abortion policies.
But even after the province’s lack of abortion services garnered the national media spotlight, Premier Robert Ghiz said the ‘status quo’ of not offering this service would remain.
Rodd said Friday her group will continue its lobby until the procedure is made available in P.E.I.
“The government’s position is untenable,” Rodd said.
“Enough is enough with the culture of silence and shame around abortions on P.E.I., enough is enough with the political hypocrisy that allows the current status quo to stand and enough is enough with sacrificing the health of Island women and girls, especially the poor and vulnerable.”
UPEI professor Dr. Colleen MacQuarrie, who is currently conducting a research project on the health impacts of abortion policies in P.E.I., says she has heard many sad and often harrowing stories from Island women who have turned to desperate measures when faced with unwanted pregnancies.
One 14-year-old girl spent two weeks inflicting terrible atrocities on her body in an effort self-induce an abortion, including drinking chemicals and having her boyfriend punch her repeatedly in the stomach.
MacQuarrie chocked back tears as she told this girl’s story.
“If you limit options people get desperate, and desperate people do things they might not ordinarily do,” she said.
“The level of harm is not distributed equally among women. The most vulnerable and the most marginalized women have suffered the most from lack of local access.”
Supporters of the pro-choice rally Saturday will march to Province House, leaving from Rochford Square at 1 p.m.
The province pays for about 60 to 70 abortions a year at the Halifax hospital, according to data the health department provided last year. Another 70 to 80 P.E.I. women also seek abortions at the private clinic in Fredericton each year, according to an official at the clinic.