Government’s abortion policy remains elusive

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Prince Edward Island Health Minister Doug Currie

Currie distances himself personally, but officially backs province’s stand

You won’t find the policy in any P.E.I. cabinet documents, Royal Gazette proclamations or political party minutes — at least none that will be made public anytime soon. But there is a policy followed by Island governments since the Supreme Court of Canada’s landmark Morgentaler ruling in 1988 — abortion services will be funded but referred to off-Island hospitals.

So the question can be asked why are pro-choice, some women’s groups and some health professionals acting so surprised and outraged about the government’s latest actions on this issue?

Health Minister Doug Currie made it plain this week the policy isn’t his policy and doesn’t fall in line with his personal viewpoints. In other words, it’s the policy of Premier Robert Ghiz and others in the Liberal government. Mr. Currie is scrambling for higher and safer ground on this one.

There is a group of Islanders — such as those mentioned earlier — appalled at the government’s failure to provide in-province reproductive rights options to Island women.  

There is another group of Islanders — such as pro-life groups, various churches, religious organizations and a number of women — who applaud the government’s decision to maintain a ‘life sanctuary’ on P.E.I.

And there is likely a sizable number of Islanders with no strong feelings either way, or who are reluctant to voice them, but are just tired of the whole issue and weary of the letters, petitions, marches and demonstrations.

Last year a physician from Nova Scotia approached Health P.E.I. offering to provide abortions on the Island. A working group was formed to see how this might work, while Health P.E.I. and QEH officials began developing a plan for twice a month clinics. A review, criticized by government as not verified, suggested the province could save $37,000 a year by offering abortion services at the QEH.

Pro-abortion groups seized on this to proclaim that the last barrier to abortions on P.E.I. had been removed. It was somehow incomprehensible that this money issue didn’t trump all other considerations. This economic argument was somehow supposed to change government’s mind.

As expected, government stepped in and said the discussion and planning were a waste of time because government’s policy hadn’t changed. Mr. Currie denies that he was responsible for shutting down the proposal but notes the whole issue was moot because “we didn’t change the policy.” The minister added that Health P.E.I. should not have even developed the proposal, since government’s policy on this issue was clear.

The government will argue, and indeed it’s the official stance of the minister of health, that Island women are being provided those reproductive health options, just not on P.E.I. The minister says P.E.I. women have access to publicly funded abortions and that the province has programs for women who cannot afford the travel costs to Halifax. Mr. Currie said thousands of Islanders are referred to regional hospitals for a variety of health services every year so why is there such a furor over abortion?

Again, why are some people surprised? It's a political decision and always has been. And for that reason, the government will have to defend its policy in the next election. Then Islanders can render their decision at the ballot box.

The only way this provincial policy will change any time soon is to elect an NDP government because the provincial Tories are on same page as the P.E.I. Liberals. That option appears remote so what’s left – electing more pro-choice Liberal or Tory candidates?

Pro-choice groups have a strong case when they argue the premier and others in the current government are using their personal and moral beliefs to create public policy. Mr. Ghiz obviously believes a majority of Islanders supports him on this issue.

Organizations: Health P.E.I., Royal Gazette, Supreme Court of Canada Morgentaler

Geographic location: Iceland, Nova Scotia, Halifax

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Recent comments

  • Bill Kays
    Bill Kays
    November 09, 2014 - 17:01

    I do not condone abortion, period, as I see it as murdering the most innocent of us, those who cannot speak for themselves. They, all of the murdered (aborted) babies, need a voice to speak up for them, to try to prevent more murders. These slaughtered masses that cannot speak out, only to God, for comfort.This should be a MORAL decision, not a political one.

  • Peter
    November 09, 2014 - 07:45

    Again, why are some people surprised? It's a political decision and always has been. No it is not a political decision! It's a religious "condition" imposed by the RC Church in 1962. says it all.

    • Peter
      November 09, 2014 - 12:06

      Sorry ... typo there .... 1982, not 1962.

  • When Up is Down?
    November 08, 2014 - 22:05

    What does liberal, or even Liberal, actually mean? Why vote Liberal if it really means something else?

  • pearl
    November 08, 2014 - 17:00

    I am afraid that this government is convinced they are covering the bases, and that their funding of off island abortion procedures will satisfy the minimum requirements., if sued This leaves them immune to any dissatisfaction with the status quo, - in other words they don't give a hoot. Our only recourse is the ballot box, - and 'reminder activities' during the campaign before the next election. Let's start planning, -----

  • Thanks Mr Editor
    November 08, 2014 - 12:05

    I agree. This government is indeed creating policy based on its own morality– rather than the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canada Health Act, which courts have already told governments they can’t do. You’re also right that pro-choice groups should stop being surprized – this government is too terrified of church ladies to start following the law now. You’re also right that it’s all grown tiresome – we need court challenges, not more rallies. You’re also right that the PCs are just as cowardly and self-serving, so don’t expect anything there either. But I’m confused about the policy. The 1988 resolution said “any policy that permits abortion is unacceptable” and the Leg Assembly of PEI “opposes the performing of abortions.” But now you tell us they’ve been funding off-island abortions since 1988? Is there some policy we don’t know about?!

  • Islander
    November 08, 2014 - 10:47

    Just because it's expected and not a surprise that the Liberal government is not interested in standing up for women's reproductive rights doesn't mean it's not an outrage. In the press release on Pap screenings the minister stated "“We are committed to enhancing pap screening services by providing more timely access for women in communities closer to home". Why doesn't the same goal apply to abortions? The hypocrisy and cowardice due to politics is what's astounding. What's also astounding is the Guardian's blatantly pro-Liberal reporting on this issue. No mentions of the women actually affected by this policy in this editorial, for starters.

  • TruthSeeker
    November 08, 2014 - 08:52

    Regardless of how you feel about abortion, this policy, if it actually exists, was developed and paid for by PEI taxpayers and we have a right to see it. The fact that Ghiz is not willing to share it speaks volumes about the policy's existence and how strongly he backs it. If the premier of PEI is basing his decision on the existence of this policy, he obviously believes it is a good one so share it.