Advocacy group suing P.E.I government over lack of abortion access

Teresa Wright
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Abortion Access Now P.E.I. Inc. getting funding from Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF)

The government of Prince Edward Island is being sued over its lack of abortion services.

Abortion Access Now P.E.I., a local advocacy group that recently incorporated in in the province, has advised the deputy attorney general of the province it will file an action in the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island against the P.E.I. government and Health and Wellness Minister Doug Currie in 90 days.

Spokeswoman Ann Wheatley says Island women have been fighting for over two decades for on-Island, safe, legal access to abortion.

“Unfortunately, it is clear to us that nothing short of a court order will prompt the government to comply with its obligations to P.E.I. residents under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” said Wheatley, who is co-chair of Abortion Access Now P.E.I.

Prince Edward Island is the only province in Canada that does not provide in-province abortion services.

RELATED: Abortion advocates say lack of access creates stress, financial strain

RELATED: P.E.I., Moncton Hospital to improve access to abortions for Island women


P.E.I. women no longer have to seek two preliminary doctors' referrals, an ultrasound or blood work prior to going off-Island for provincially-covered abortions - all steps necessary prior to June 2015.

Island women still need to travel out of the province at their own cost, including the $46 Confederation Bridge toll.

The issue of abortion access in P.E.I. dominated headlines throughout 2015, with politicians running in both provincial and federal elections facing questions regularly on the campaign trail.

Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced questions about abortion during two visits to P.E.I. in 2015.

He hinted the province might soon have to change its policy.

"I recognize that Premier (Wade) MacLauchlan has made positive steps in the right direction, but it's important that every Canadian across this country has access to a full range of health services, including full reproductive services, in every province in the country."

UPEI professor Colleen MacQuarrieconducted a research study in 2014 that concluded P.E.I.'s limited access to abortion services has led to risks to women's health due, in part, to some women attempting to self-abort.

She says P.E.I.’s policy of sending women out-of-province for abortion services is discriminatory.

“It is time for our equality rights to matter. P.E.I.'s discriminatory and unlawful abortion policy must end.”

Abortion Access Now P.E.I. Inc. is being represented in its court action by Nijhawan McMillan Barristers of Halifax and is receiving litigation support from the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), a national, equality rights organization.

Kim Staton, LEAF’s legal director, says this Supreme Court action will be a Charter challenge and an administrative law challenge.

It is time for our equality rights to matter. P.E.I.'s discriminatory and unlawful abortion policy must end. Colleen MacQuarrie

“In our view, P.E.I.’s abortion policy violates the right of Island women to equal access to health care services under the equality rights provisions of the charter,” Staton said.

“P.E.I.’s policy unlawfully discriminates on the basis of sex and pregnancy because it excludes abortion, which is a basic health care service required by women from the health care services offered in P.E.I.”

Staton says they are willing to go the distance in fighting this in court, although she admits it will be costly.

She says she is confidant people will be moved to donate to this case.

“I think Canadians will respond. It’s such a profound affront to equality rights that women in one of the provinces doesn’t have access to a basic health care service that women in all the other provinces can access.”

A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office of P.E.I. noted the province did make changes this year to improve access to abortion services for Island women.

“Government has just received notice and will be reviewing very carefully, and in consultation with legal counsel, the material to be filed. Government will respond accordingly in due course.”

Organizations: Supreme Court, Rights, UPEI Abortion Access Now P.E.I. Legal Education and Action Fund

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Faith
    January 06, 2016 - 12:41

    It is a very entitled attitude to demand that so much extra resources be dumped onto this one single elective procedure, when it is already offered with relative ease. $46 for a bridge toll is not too much to ask when the rest is provided for. It's not a service that is being denied. It's a service that just takes a little more effort. This is the norm on the Island. So many other procedures (many of which are for life-threatening illnesses or diseases) are offered the same way. There is nothing discriminatory about this. It's a small small Island with very strained resources. There is no "shaming" going on when one objects to such entitled demands. It's just not reasonable.

  • Chris
    January 06, 2016 - 08:29

    we are also Canada's smallest province by far, driving two or three hours to abort your own mistake (in 95% of cases, I know that some people have medical reasons, or rape etc) one time is not that big of a deal! I have to drive to Halifax several times a year to take my daughter to the IWK because the island isn't equipped to deal with that. SEVERAL TIMES A YEAR, and these women are complaining about having to do it once, for something that could be argued is their own damn fault (again. not in every case. but most.) and my daughter didn't ask to be born with the issues she has. How is that fair? Where is my compensation? Isn't my 7 year old daughter entitled to on island treatment? I'd be willing to bet that some women in other provinces have to drive just as long to reach abortion services, do you honestly think that every other woman in Canada is within two or 3 hours of an abortion clinic? no. we are the smallest province BY FAR. I'm not arguing whether women should be allowed to have abortions here, that's not my point. My point is there are other people with issues that need to travel off island as well, and they just accept it and deal with it. Stop being so entitled, we are a small province, driving a few hours is not unreasonable in the least.

    • Observer
      January 06, 2016 - 14:33

      Chris: You said everything that I was thinking. My mom had to go to Moncton - at her own expense - for brain surgery. And the family paid all associated costs. Someone in Churchill Manitoba would have to get themselves to Winnipeg or Toronto or wherever for specialized services - considerably more than 3 hours away. Why should abortion services be more important than life-saving surgery that is only provided off-Island? BTW - I am a woman and I have very mixed emotions about abortion.

  • Norman Hades
    January 06, 2016 - 08:09

    If all the pro-abortion people don't like the rules on PEI then move to Moncton. Everyone's problems on this issue will be instantly resolved. No more travelling, extra expenses, discrimination or best of all no more bawling. Also for all the people who are backing this ridiculous idea of once again suing the provincial government just where do you think the Government money comes from? Here is a better idea for you. Go in and file a lawsuit against yourself, then whether you win or lose at least you'll still have your cash in hand. Here is a group of people (Abortion Access Now P.E.I.) that backs up the old saying, "you just can't fix stupid". Give up and move away, there are much more important issues with the healthcare system that need attention. Abortion shouldn't even be a candidate for being on the list.

  • Monkeytown
    January 05, 2016 - 19:52

    Islanders will go to the mainland just to get canned pop, but sue the government if they have to go that far for an abortion. Smh.

    • Kom-Hitro
      January 06, 2016 - 04:51

      You don't get much do you? Abortion is not a LUXURY like a can of pop. Do you know WHO spends more on luxury items than necessary items? That's right, the wealthy, sweetcheeks. And even having to GO to the mainland is an infringement on women's rights. Whose rights are you infringing on when someone has to buy a can of pop on the mainland? OOPS?

  • James
    January 05, 2016 - 16:02

    This Government is the laughing stalk of Canada on this issue. Just stop and think, the only Province in Canada that does not provide this service. This new Premier is a piece of work. Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to all Canadians. What is the real issue here Mr Premier? No more evasive answers or sugur coating, tell us the real reason. Mr Jamie Fox had better jump in here soon.

    • Facts
      January 06, 2016 - 08:55

      Abortion is available - not sure why you feel someone's Charter of Rights is being infringed upon. Supreme Court of Canada has already deemed abortion to be legal. What is YOUR real issue??

  • Gertrud
    January 05, 2016 - 15:03

    There is some irony here. It is a known fact that abortions, especially several of them, can cause inability to conceive later. So the taxpayers pay for abortion and later for infertility treatment. Good deal ----

    • Brent
      January 06, 2016 - 13:07

      I hadn't heard this claim that abortions caused later infertility. So I did a quick scan of the literature. It appears that this isn't correct or at least not a "fact". Stubblefield, P. G., Monson, R. R., Schoenbaum, S. C., Wolfson, C. E., Cookson, D. J., & Ryan, K. J. (1984). Fertility after induced abortion: a prospective follow-up study. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 63(2), 186–193.

  • jill
    January 05, 2016 - 14:56

    They will be after my opinion next.

  • IVF
    January 05, 2016 - 14:52

    Well since they are going to sue I say everyone trying to have a baby and cannot should sue the province of PEI because they don't offer IVF.

  • Rural Urban
    January 05, 2016 - 14:34

    This is all about the church and how politicians get their votes during elections. Just look at the demographics of PEI. Senior Majority. MLAs know that if they allow for abortions here on PEI, the church will take all votes away from current-sitting party members (stress on the word ALL). Suing the government is the only way this issue will be resolved here on PEI. It's sad, but true.

  • About time
    January 05, 2016 - 14:10

    I think its about time PEI to stand up as women we have a right and i hope these women win its a long time coming when people have to Travel to get help they need

  • enough already
    January 05, 2016 - 13:34

    It is time for people with heart disease, many kinds of cancer , orthopedic problems and a host of other conditions to sue the government. No one on the Island should have to travel for medical care but unfortunately that is not the case. .

  • CJ
    January 05, 2016 - 13:11

    I thought we already have abortions at the Q E H when the mother's life is in danger but not for birth control. This seems to be what some people want.

  • JD
    January 05, 2016 - 11:30

    Let's see, minimum 6 month wait for diagnostic imaging, Having to go to Halifax or Moncton for Allergy or Heart Specialists, are all costs the government doesn't cover. Lets provide elective surgery for those who choose to be irresponsible and don't want the consequences. Oh, and the trips for those elective surgeries are paid for. Give your heads a shake and find something else to sue about.

  • RJ
    January 05, 2016 - 10:10

    Good. Where can I donate to this cause?

  • MFH
    January 05, 2016 - 09:34

    Sorry !!, but if these people are too careless to use birth control then the onus should be on them, not the provincial health system. Practice safe sex !!!

    • MSJ
      January 05, 2016 - 12:49

      MFH - Get your head out of the sand. The only fail-proof birth control is abstinence. Anyone having sex risks pregnancy. Your logic dictates self-imposed health crises are the sole responsibility of the person afflicted. Should we turn away smokers with lung cancer or alcoholics with liver disease? Wake up.

    • Jc
      January 05, 2016 - 19:56

      I just have one question why do I have to pay for this .if it's for health reasons or someone has had this forced upon them yes I am willing to help out and yes those procedures should be done here on the island but people we have a lot of sick people here that are suffering.if you make a mistake ante up your self and yes it should be done here but not for free.

    • Kom-Hitro
      January 06, 2016 - 04:55

      Sorry, but most women who have HAD abortions used some form of contraception, sweetie. Also, nice s!ut-shaming. Only women shouldn't be able to exercise their freedom to have consensual sex for purposes other than procreation because... biology (or something). Gross misogyny.

    • Kom-Hitro
      January 06, 2016 - 05:09

      Jc, you oppose women having rights, apparently. After all, you PROVE that this is all about punishing those s!utty women for having consensual sex for purposes other than procreation. If you think abortion should be restricted for any other reason than medical reasons then what prevents laws being enacted that makes it not okay to defend oneself from rape unless their life is in immediate danger or they've already been raped. It's sickening misogyny. ALL pregnancies are life-threatening, BTW. There is NOT a 0% chance that a woman will die from pregnancy, childbirth or postpartum complications. Oops.