P.E.I. should conduct binding referendum on abortion issue

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Desmond Colohan

By Desmond Colohan (guest opinion)

I have declared previously that I am neither pro-abortion nor anti-abortion, but I am very supportive of every person’s right to make personal choices, as long as there are no legal constraints to such decisions. As I understand the current situation in Canada, there is no criminal law which prohibits therapeutic abortion and there is no law which requires the provinces to fund therapeutic abortions. The Canada Health Act only requires that provinces fund and secure the delivery of “medically necessary” health services, either in-province or out of province. Each province decides which services it considers medically necessary and, consequently, funds it.

One might infer that the P.E.I. government has decided that access to therapeutic abortion is medically necessary, since it funds it, as long as it is recommended by two Island physicians and performed in hospital, but not in a P.E.I. hospital. Such a policy decision effectively creates a barrier of access to therapeutic abortion for women unable to find two Island physicians who are willing to make a referral out of province in a timely manner (weeks, not months). There is also an out of pocket expense involved in travelling to and staying in an out of province location to receive this service, which may also be a disincentive.

Abortions performed outside a hospital are not covered.

Two years ago, a spokesperson for Health P.E.I. indicated that the main reason therapeutic abortions weren’t being done on P.E.I. was because no potential provider had applied for privileges to do so. As has been reported in the media, a gynecologist from Nova Scotia recently submitted a business plan to Health P.E.I. for the delivery of therapeutic abortion services on P.E.I. and, in February, 2014, a recommendation supporting that proposal went from the Provincial Medical Advisory Committee to the Board of Health P.E.I. Since then, according to its CEO, Health P.E.I. has received instructions from the P.E.I. government that the status quo is to be maintained.

So much for a putative arms-length relationship between the government and Health P.E.I..

This is a highly divisive issue on P.E.I., but it is not clear to me whether the numerous arguments put forth by pro-life and pro-choice supporters represent the feelings of the majority of Islanders. I would suggest that, if there is a willing and qualified provider for abortion services, they submit an application for privileges through Health P.E.I. to deliver such services on-island. I would also suggest that this government conduct a binding referendum of Islanders to answer the question “Do you support a policy that the people of P.E.I., through their elected government, fund and make available therapeutic abortion services on P.E.I.?” If a majority of eligible voters either supports or rejects this question, government should be bound by the result and act accordingly.

In the words of James Talmage, a distinguished academic, “The man who cannot listen to an argument which opposes his views either has a weak position or is a weak defender of it. No opinion that cannot stand discussion or criticism is worth holding. And, it has been wisely said, the man who knows only half of any question is worse off than the man who knows nothing of it. He is not only one-sided, but his partisanship soon turns him into an intolerant and a fanatic. “

Desmond Colohan is a P.E.I. physician with a special interest in responsible public policy.

Organizations: Health P.E.I., P.E.I. hospital, Provincial Medical Advisory Committee Board of Health P.E.I. Since

Geographic location: P.E.I., Canada, Iceland Nova Scotia

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