P.E.I. abortion policy legally actionable: law professor

Teresa Wright twright@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on May 28, 2014
More than 100 people took part in a rall at Province House today calling for more accessible abortion. 

A law professor from Dalhousie University says Prince Edward Island’s abortion policy violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Jocelyn Downey was in P.E.I. Wednesday to take part in a news conference held by a national abortion lobby group trying to bring abortion services to the Island.

Downey, who teaches law at Dalhousie University in Halifax, says she believes Prince Edward Island’s policy of sending women out of the province for abortion services is legally actionable.

“There is quite simply no logic to the justifications offered by the government for failing to provide abortion services on-Island,” Downey said.

“The decision of the government flies in the face of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, specifically, the right not to be deprived of life, liberty and security of the person, and second, in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice, one of which is that law should not be arbitrary.”

The National Abortion Federation has presented a business case to the P.E.I. government with the aim to bring abortion services to P.E.I.

Federation president Vicki Saporta says the plan would be cost-neutral for the province and that three doctors are willing to travel to P.E.I to perform the procedure.

She pointed to statements recently made by P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz, wherein he stated, “I believe the status quo is working.”

“It’s not working for the more than 150 women each year who need to leave the province to obtain the abortion care they need – care that would be available locally if they lived in any other province in the country,” Saporta said.

P.E.I. is the only province in Canada that does not offer any in-province abortion services.

The government does cover the cost of hospital abortions out-of-province, but private clinic abortions and all transportation costs are not covered.

The closest hospital that performs the service is the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Halifax.

The proposal put forward by the National Abortion Federation would see abortions performed in outpatient hospital rooms in P.E.I. a few hours every two weeks.

But after a presentation to the province’s medical advisory committee, the proposal has stalled.

Health P.E.I. says it will not change current policy on abortion as it is following government’s direction to maintain the status quo.

Dr. Robyn MacQuarrie, one of the physicians willing to travel to the Island to perform abortions, said it is a simple medical procedure that P.E.I. women should not have to leave the province to obtain.

“Recently, as an excuse for lack of abortion services, we’ve heard that many different services are available to Islanders through referral off-Island,” MacQuarrie said.

“This is true, but generally these services are for specialists that simply cannot function in smaller communities.”

She said the Ghiz government’s refusal to change its abortion policy is a political decision.

She argues it should be a health decision.

“I assure you, as a trained obstetrician/gynecologist, the health risks associated with pregnancy, labour and delivery and the post-partum period are far greater than those created by abortion,” MacQuarrie said.

“Mr. Ghiz, while I understand the status quo is working for you and your political aspirations, I challenge you to consider that it is not working for the women of P.E.I.”

The group is presenting a letter outlining its legal concerns over P.E.I.’s abortion policy to Ghiz and Health Minister Doug Currie.

They also have meetings scheduled with Currie and the minister responsible for the status of women in P.E.I., Valerie Docherty.