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Abortion services is The Guardian's top news story of the year

Colleen MacQuarrie, left, program director of the P.E.I. Status of Womens Council and Brittany Jakubiec, a UPEI student and pro-abortion advocate, hug after Premier Wade MacLauchlan announced earlier this year that the government will not oppose a constitutional challenge to provincial policies regarding access to in-province abortion services. The announcement was made during a news conferenc in Charlottetown with MacLauchlan, Robert Henderson, minister of health and wellness and Paula Biggar, minister responsible for the status of women.
Colleen MacQuarrie, left, program director of the P.E.I. Status of Womens Council and Brittany Jakubiec, a UPEI student and pro-abortion advocate, hug after Premier Wade MacLauchlan announced earlier this year that the government will not oppose a constitutional challenge to provincial policies regarding access to in-province abortion services. The announcement was made during a news conferenc in Charlottetown with MacLauchlan, Robert Henderson, minister of health and wellness and Paula Biggar, minister responsible for the status of women.

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - There has been so much suffering for such a long time. Now, finally, 2016 has brought much-anticipated change that was sought for decades through rallies and protests to end one harrowing experience after another for Island women.

Earlier this year, one P.E.I. government finally made the historic decision to extend abortion services in the province.

The move got the nod as The Guardian’s News Story of the Year, but the Liberal government under the leadership of Wade MacLauchlan is not earning our unabashed praise for the long-overdue action.

“I would like to believe the MacLauchlan government made the decision because it was the right thing to do,’’ says Wayne Thibodeau, regional managing editor with The Guardian.

“But nothing short of the threat of legal action, and the associated hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills, moved our political leaders. Still, the decision was made, and nobody will be able to take that right away from Island women.’’

In September, the government announced a new Women’s Wellness Centre and Program for P.E.I., confirming a commitment made earlier in the year to establish reproductive and sexual health services for Island women.

Ann Wheatley, co-chairwoman of Abortion Access Now P.E.I., describes as “very significant’’ the government’s move to provide medical and surgical abortions at the Prince County Hospital.

“That was incredibly important for all Island women because it recognized finally that denying that service was interfering with the right to control our reproductive lives,’’ says Wheatley.

“I think it’s an example of something that government did this year that is going to have a lasting impact on Islanders.’’

The government, however, needed much more than a nudge.

The push for P.E.I. to end its dubious distinction as the only province not offering abortion services has been persistent and determined.

A coalition of pro-choice groups marched through the streets of Charlottetown earlier this year during International Women's Day to protest the lack of abortion services on the Island.

Ultimately, a court challenge proved the final, successful call for change.

MacLauchlan’s government decided not to contest the legal challenge and committed to establishing a women’s health centre within the province.

“It’s significant and it reflects the advocacy of the community groups and the women’s groups,’’ MacLauchlan told The Guardian Thursday.

“It’s responsive to health-care needs in the broader sense…I think it is part of our role as government is to go forward in areas where Prince Edward Islanders want government to take a modern approach.’’

The premier was somewhat evasive when asked if he is proud that his government is the one to finally make abortion services available in P.E.I.

“I’m glad to be the premier that is bringing in this comprehensive approach to women’s wellness and reproductive health,’’ he said, choosing not to speak specifically about abortion services.

Hospital-based services for women, including abortion services, will be phased in starting in late January, with community-based services commencing in March.

Family physicians and obstetricians-gynecologists, as well as frontline staff including nurses, a nurse practitioner and a social worker, will support the Women’s Wellness Centre and Program.

Wheatley says convincing government to finally adopt abortion services in P.E.I. took a long and monumental effort.

Premier Wade MacLauchlan, centre, listens as Paula Biggar, minister responsible for the status of women, as she speaks after MacLauchlan announced earlier this year that the government will not oppose a constitutional challenge to provincial policies regarding access to in-province abortion services.

“This wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for different generations of women pushing for abortion services,’’ says Wheatley.

“There were very many actions and campaigns by women over the years.’’

In the past couple of years, more and more women have been sharing their stories of the hardship endured having to travel off-Island for an abortion.

Many of them were young, living in poverty and trying to keep unwanted pregnancies secret from abusive partners.

Women have spoke of encountering great difficulty trying to navigate the P.E.I. health system in an attempt to access abortion services or receive aftercare following an abortion received in Nova Scotia or New Brunswick.

Wheatley says her group will keep tabs on how the abortion services unfold.

“We will monitor how things progress at the clinic…and push for better access to medical abortions,’’ she says.

Thibodeau says the decision to extend abortion services to P.E.I. was the clear choice as News Story of the Year in 2016.

He noted how The Guardian took the rare step in January to publish its editorial on the front page calling for the province to put an end to its antiquated legislation on abortion, which Thibodeau says made P.E.I. a backwater on women’s rights.

“This story, unlike many others we covered over the past 12 months, will have a lasting, positive impact for Island women for decades to come,’’ he says.

Jim.Day@tc.tc

Twitter.com/GuardianJimDay

Past Guardian News Stories of the Year:

- 1993: Catherine Callbeck*

- 1994: 7 1/2 per cent public sector wage rollback*

- 1995: Bombing of P.E.I. legislature*

- 1996: Raising of Irving Whale oil barge

- 1997: Opening of Confederation Bridge

- 1998: David (Eli) MacEachern winning Olympic gold medal

- 1999: Tracadie Cross hearse accident

- 2000: Prime Minister gets pie in face

- 2001: Sept. 11 and its impact on Prince Edward Island

- 2002: Lawrence MacAulay resignation from federal cabinet

- 2003: Hurricane Juan

- 2004: Collapse of fishery processor Polar Foods

- 2005: Gas price shocker

- 2006: Islanders head West

- 2007: Crisis in agriculture

- 2008: Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) controversy

- 2009: Upheaval in education

- 2010: Visit to P.E.I. by Live! With Regis and Kelly

- 2011: Shooting deaths in Alberta

- 2012: Tory turmoil (a year of controversy for - Olive Crane and P.E.I. PC Party)

- 2013: Murder/suicide of mother and child

- 2014: Robert Ghiz surprise resignation

- 2015: Record-breaking winter

- 2016: P.E.I.’s historic decision to extend abortion services in the province.

*Editor's note: For the years 1993, 1994 and 1995, The Guardian only selected a Newsmaker of the Year. In 1996, to comply with The Canadian Press selection method, The Guardian began selecting both a Newsmaker of the Year (usually a person) and a News Story of the Year (usually an event or series of events).

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