Medical abortions available in P.E.I.

Teresa Wright twright@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on January 29, 2013
A small group of women marched to the premier’s office in Charlottetown to mark the 25th anniversary of the decriminalization of abortion and to call for abortions to be made available in P.E.I.
Guardian photo

Prince Edward Island is the only province that does not perform surgical abortions, but it turns out there is another form of abortion available in P.E.I.

At least one Island doctor is administering what is known as medically induced, or chemical, abortions.

These procedures are performed within the first seven weeks of a pregnancy and administered through a combination of an injection and pills.

One local woman, who has several small children already and was not prepared for another child, underwent this procedure last fall. In an interview Monday, she asked for anonymity to protect the identity of the doctor who administered the procedure.

She said she was desperate for a way out of the pregnancy at the time and was thankful to have found this option. It did not require the expense and hassle of travelling off-Island to have an abortion in a clinic or a hospital.

“I have no idea what I would have done without that doctor. I can literally say he probably saved my life,” the woman said Monday. “I was looking on the Internet for ways to self-abort or where I could buy this medication. Who knows what I would have been getting? I was feeling pretty depressed. I just couldn’t see a way out and he was my last hope.”

The procedure itself was a simple one, she explained, and one she has no regrets about.

But she said she remains concerned for other P.E.I. women who may not be aware this procedure is available or who may not have access to a physician willing to administer this form of abortion.

Dr. Richard Wedge, acting CEO of Health P.E.I., said Monday he was not aware of any physicians in P.E.I. currently performing this procedure, although he admitted he would not necessarily be made aware if they were.

If a doctor wants to offer this service, they are free to do so, he said.

“These are commonly available medications, and if someone decided to start offering this service, I’m sure they would have gone and learned about it, figured out how to do it and started offering it,” Wedge said.

P.E.I. currently does not provide traditional surgical abortions in-province, but does pay for the procedure off-Island if performed in a hospital and with an Island doctor’s referral. Government does not cover abortions performed at private clinics.

There are no policies or legislation that exist preventing a doctor from performing the controversial procedure in P.E.I. But until now, no doctor has shown interest in offering this service.

Wedge said he does not believe medically induced abortions are performed very frequently. But he acknowledged there are no policies or laws prohibiting doctors from performing more of these abortions.

“If they wanted to carry that out there’s no prohibition from doing that,” Wedge said.

“As long as they’re licensed to practise medicine, they’re licensed to prescribe the medicine and they learn how to do the procedure, then they do it. This is done in an office, it’s not even done in a hospital.”

UPEI professor Colleen MacQuarrie, who has been conducting a research study on the effects of the lack of abortion services for P.E.I. women, says she has spoken with a doctor who offers this procedure, and he said he is fearful about backlash if he advertised openly he is offering this service.

She wants government to endorse the procedure to encourage more physicians to offer it to Island women who may be in serious need of this service.

“It would reduce the financial burden, the stress, the time of work, the travel to another place, trying to arrange for child care,” she said. “I think it would go a long way to addressing the current inequities.”