Medical society president explains silence on abortion

Teresa Wright twright@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on November 29, 2011
Dr. Rachel Kassner, president of the Medical Society of P.E.I., would like the provincial government to develop a better succession plan that would allow older physicians to cut back on their workload.
Guardian photo by Jim Day

The president of the P.E.I. Medical Society says her organization has refused to comment directly on the lack of abortion services in P.E.I. due to the divided opinion of P.E.I. doctors on the issue.

On Monday, P.E.I. Medical Society President Dr. Rachel Kassner submitted a letter to The Guardian for its editorial page explaining why the society has not provided a spokesperson to comment on the provision of abortion services on P.E.I.

Up until now, the Medical Society has refused comment on the controversial topic of P.E.I.’s abortion policies, despite its recent prevalence in both local and national media.

In her letter, Kassner says this is due to the polarization among the public and among doctors when questions about abortion are raised.

“Even though the current debate is suppose to be specific to access to abortion services in P.E.I., predictably and perhaps understandably, the mere mention of the ‘A’ word polarizes groups, and yes, that includes doctors,” Kasser says in her letter.

“It must be stated that to achieve consensus on the issue of abortion within any group is impossible and invariably divisive.”

That why, rather than providing a local spokesperson to speak about the lack of this medical service on P.E.I., the Medical Society has been directing media to the Canadian Medical Association’s official policy on abortion.

“MSPEI endorses this policy, which acknowledges that although abortion is a legal medical procedure, no physician is obliged to recommend or perform the procedure,” Kassner wrote.

“However, personal beliefs must not affect the health and safety of a woman seeking an abortion by delaying access to the procedure,” she added.

The Canadian Medical Association’s abortion policy states physicians with moral or religious beliefs preventing them from recommending an abortion should inform the patient of this so she can find another doctor.

Dr. Richard Wedge, executive director of medical affairs at Health P.E.I. told The Guardian last week doctors on P.E.I. can refuse to provide abortion referrals. But if they do refuse, they are medically obliged to refer the woman to another physician who will make the referral.

Officials at the society sent the request for information from Health P.E.I. after several P.E.I. women stated in the media recently their doctors refused to give them referrals or did not provide adequate information about abortion services available in the region.

MSPEI will be circulating the information it received from Health P.E.I. to all practising physicians on referral and access to abortion services.