Activists gathered outside the P.E.I. Legislature while abortion was discussed inside the house for the first time in years in June, 2015 in Charlottetown.
Despite best efforts, unwanted pregnancies will still be a reality; Island women deserve equality
Guest opinion by Anna Keenan
Bravo to The Guardian for having the courage to publish “We need local access” on the front page of the paper (22/12/2015). I can only imagine the number of anti-choice letters you will receive to the opinion page.
Sadly, many pro-choice women won’t write in today because they are afraid of being judged, criticized or ostracized by their anti-choice family, friends and community. Many Island women who have had abortions won’t write in today to share their stories, because those stories are - rightly - private. So I expect that the vocal anti-choice minority will again dominate this opinion page.
Having moved to P.E.I. in April of this year — previously living in Quebec, the Netherlands, and Australia — I was absolutely shocked to discover that women’s choice was restricted here on the Island. It’s 2015.
I believe in local, publicly funded abortion access. Abortion access is good for women, for society, and for the children who eventually do arrive by choice into loving and well-prepared families.
I’ve just given birth, in early December, to my first child — by choice. The pregnancy came as a surprise, but I was happy to take on the challenge at this time of my life: I am financially secure, well-educated, have a wonderful husband, a supportive family, and good physical and mental health. We had already discussed and agreed that we wanted a child in the coming years. Our beautiful baby is healthy and well, and I feel well-equipped to provide for their future.
But not all women are happy to be pregnant. Not all women are in a situation where they feel they can — or want — to be mothers.
“But then they shouldn’t get pregnant!” I hear the anti-choice activists crying. Indeed, I agree that not getting pregnant would be ideal for these women. I’m sure that they agree too. But it’s incredibly unrealistic to think that all people who don’t want children will abstain from sex. It’s utopian to think that accidents don’t happen. It is utopian to think that pregnancy resulting from rape doesn’t happen.
Pro-lifers seem to think that women with unwanted pregnancies should: a) magically change their life situation and attitude to become grateful and enthusiastic; b) have the baby anyway, even if they don’t want to or can’t adequately support the child; or c) leave the province to get access to abortion care.
Option A is, mostly, unrealistic — especially if a woman is in poverty or doesn’t have strong family and community support. Option B is extremely stressful and unhealthy — physically, mentally and emotionally — for the mother, child, and broader family, and it directly leads to children being born into poverty or ill-health.
Option C — the current status quo — is a cruel, stressful, and unnecessary punishment. It is especially stressful to send a woman off-island if she wants to use her right to privacy, and so needs to design ‘cover up’ stories to explain to family, friends and employers why she is leaving the island for a few days. I’m sick of seeing pregnancy being used as punishment in this way.
It’s fine if you’re pro-life. No-one will ever force you to have an abortion. By all means, go out and educate women about contraceptive methods to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies. Go out and organize the necessary practical support for mothers in need, so that fewer women will want to choose abortion. But please, just recognize that even with your best efforts, unwanted pregnancies will still be a reality. Recognize that not all women believe that abortion is a sin. Stop forcing your beliefs on other people by forcing women off-island.
Anna Keenan of Hunter River is currently a nursing mother. She works as a climate change and energy campaigner.