Defending status quo for abortion on P.E.I.

Teresa Wright twright@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on December 28, 2015

Approximately 300 anti-choice protesters gathered at Province House Sunday to protest abortion and to demand the Ghiz government stop funding what they call medically unnecessary abortions in off Island facilities.

©Guardian photo by Brian McInnis

Premier says he’s balancing many views on controversial issue

P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan is defending his decision to keep Prince Edward Island the only province in Canada where women do not have access to in-province abortion services.

During his year-end interview with The Guardian, MacLauchlan noted his government did make abortion services easier for Island women to access in Moncton – a move that came just weeks after his May election victory.

But when asked why the province still does not allow this health service to be performed in Prince Edward Island, MacLauchlan says it’s a decision based on the divided views of Islanders.

“In the case of government, that’s why one serves as premier or why people choose a government, it’s your job to assess what the view is on things and to choose the timing for steps to be taken and that’s what we’ve done,” he said.

“I think we are consistent with what we said during the election and we’re also following what Prince Edward Islanders feel about this, including that this is a very controversial issue.”

P.E.I. women no longer have to seek two preliminary doctors' referrals, an ultrasound or blood work — all steps previously necessary to access provincially covered abortions in the only other Health P.E.I. approved hospital in Halifax.

But Island women do still need to travel out of the province at their own cost, including the $45.50 Confederation Bridge toll – which increases to $46 on Jan.1.

The issue of abortion access in P.E.I. has dominated headlines throughout 2015 due to advocacy and protests from groups on both sides of the issue.

Politicians running for election in the provincial and federal election faced questions about abortion regularly through the course of the two campaigns this year.

The issue was so prevalent in the headlines, it was a contender for The Guardian’s news story of the year for 2015.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told The Guardian in September he was pleased to see the provincial government has made some moves to allow Island women better access to reproductive health services.

But he hinted the province might soon have to start offering abortions in the province.

“I recognize that Premier MacLauchlan has made positive steps in the right direction, but it’s important that every Canadian across this country has access to a full range of health services, including full reproductive services, in every province in the country.”

Advocates who have been fighting to make this service available in Prince Edward Island say they will continue to push for full abortion access and after-care to be available in P.E.I.

A new group, Abortion Access Now P.E.I. Inc., has been officially incorporated with the province to champion this cause and provide assistance and support to Island women.

“There are still some barriers to women who want to get an abortion,” said spokeswoman Ann Wheatley.

“Because it’s off-Island they have to take a day off work, the cost of travel and child care really disadvantages women who are lower-income. We feel it’s about time we made sure Island women have proper access.”