Change in P.E.I.'s abortion policy long time coming

Teresa Wright twright@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on April 1, 2016

Colleen MacQuarrie,  co-chairwoman of Abortion Access Now P.E.I., speaks to the media in this file photo. MacQuarrie said Thurday she was surprised and excited and incredibly relieved by Thursday's change in provincial abortion policy

P.E.I.’s change in abortion policy has been decades in the making.

That was the declaration from many advocates who have been fighting for access to abortion services for women in Prince Edward Island.

“I was a little bit surprised and excited and incredibly relieved. It’s taken a long time, about 28 years to get to this point,” said Colleen MacQuarrie, co-chairwoman of Abortion Access Now P.E.I.

MacQuarrie conducted a research study in 2014 that concluded P.E.I.'s diminished access to abortion services has led to risks to women's health, including some women attempting to self-abort.

She held back tears Thursday as she described the experiences of the women she interviewed.

“I have listened to women’s stories and I heard how horrible the situation had been for them trying to access abortion, so they were on my mind. It’s very emotional when I think about the punishing regime that some of the women had gone through,” MacQuarrie said.

“I’m glad that this time in our history has shifted, that we will definitely have a full range of reproductive health care, and now we can start to focus on the other ideas around reproductive justice.”

The P.E.I. government announced Thursday it is moving to allow abortion services in Prince Edward Island for the first time in close to 35 years.

The Island is the only province in Canada that does not offer in-province abortion services. P.E.I. does fund out-of-province abortions in Moncton and Halifax but does not cover any associated travel costs.

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The P.E.I. Advisory Council on the Status of Women has advocated for this policy to change for more than 30 years.

That’s why executive director Jane Ledwell says the pledge to bring reproductive health services to P.E.I. by the end of 2016 is historic.

“It’s an acknowledgement of women’s rights,” Ledwell said.

Given the decades-long fight for this service, Ledwell said she was initially skeptical this announcement would ever be made in P.E.I.

“I was skeptical until I heard the words from the premier’s mouth and from the minister’s mouth.”

The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), a national non-profit organization, worked with Abortion Access Now P.E.I. to launch a legal challenge against the P.E.I. government’s abortion policy.

It was this legal challenge that Premier Wade MacLauchlan says is the reason the province will now offer abortion services, as government has determined it would not be successful in this legal fight.

LEAF issued a statement Thursday saying it is “proud to have played a role in bringing about this historic change.”

And while abortion advocates are celebrating this news, they all said they will keep a close eye on the rollout of this reproductive health plan to ensure it best meets the needs of Island women.

“This is a victory that we’ve been waiting for a long time,” said Josie Baker of the P.E.I. Abortion Rights Network.

The last legal abortion on P.E.I. was performed in 1982.