Women in Prince Edward Island will have easier access to abortion services thanks to a new agreement between the Moncton Hospital and the P.E.I. government.
However, the Island will remain the only province in Canada where surgical abortions are not available.
Beginning on July 1, P.E.I. women will be able to access abortions in Moncton by calling a toll-free number and making an appointment at the Moncton Hospital. The procedure will be covered by P.E.I. Medicare when they present their P.E.I. health card.
Women will not have to seek two preliminary doctor’s referrals, an ultrasound or blood work - all steps P.E.I. women must currently take in order to access provincially covered abortions in the only other Health P.E.I. approved hospital in Halifax.
Premier Wade MacLauchlan says this new arrangement removes barriers similar to those identified in the 1988 Morgentaler decision and provides women access to confidential, quality care.
“We view this as a proper response in terms of the need and the obligation to offer the service to Prince Edward Island women,” he said.
But while this does make access to abortion easier and more streamlined, Prince Edward Island women will continue to have to pay $45 to leave the province via the Confederation Bridge.
MacLauchlan dismissed the notion this was a political decision.
“I wouldn’t describe it as a political decision so much as it is a decision about the provision in a comprehensive, clinical context of a service that is legally available and covered by the Canada Health Act.”
Health Minister Doug Currie hinted there could be further developments in this policy in future, calling this a “key first step” in eliminating access and barriers to women seeking abortions in Prince Edward Island.
“The announcement today is focusing on timely access and we’re going to continue to build on that,” Currie said.
“This announcement today was in partnership with a lot of good dialogue and conversation with key stakeholders… we’re going to continue to talk more about improving access to women’s health services in the province.”
Jane Ledwell, executive director of the P.E.I. Advisory Council on the Status of Women says while this announcement does not go as far as women’s groups have been asking, it is a significant first step.
“In some ways, this is the most important announcement in access to abortion in more than 30 years,” Ledwell said.
“It will make a difference to any number of women that they don’t have to go though the process of meeting with a doctor, go through blood work and ultrasounds locally. They can phone and have the independence and autonomy to phone and make an appointment and follow through with that appointment.”
Sara Roach–Lewis, executive director of the P.E.I. Women’s Health Network, agreed, saying these new measures will help many vulnerable women who have long been turning to organizations like hers trying to navigate through the current policies.
“To be able to see there’s a toll-free number and get professional, confidential, non-judgmental access to not only information but services that don’t require two doctor’s notes and going through an ultrasound on P.E.I. – that is a monumental shift.”
Roach-Lewis was especially encouraged by Currie’s comments calling this a first step.
“We know that change in policy takes a long time, so I’m still confident and still will continue to work for local (abortion) access,” she said.
“I think that we’re certainly well on our way to that.”
From left, Paula Biggar, minister responsible for the status of women, along with Premier Wade MacLauchlan and Health Minister Doug Currie, announce a new arrangement with the Moncton Hospital to provide access to abortion for P.E.I. women.
©Guardian photo by Teresa Wright