P.E.I. government must concede on abortion issue

Published on January 7, 2016

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

The pending court challenge was inevitable. Now it’s time for the provincial government to finally do the right thing. It must remove the last barriers to reproductive health services — including abortion — on Prince Edward Island.

Or it can be obstinate. It can fight a losing battle and wait for the courts to make the decision instead.

A word of caution to Premier Wade MacLauchlan: Don’t waste our time and money fighting a court action the province cannot win. You know what to do.

The province, if it wants, can tell Islanders the action was forced upon government and it had no choice but to concede. It’s the easy way out.

Or the government can show courage and simply say it’s time. The legal challenge announced Tuesday re-focused attention on this debate and after examining all sides of the issue, government can say it will move to dismantle these last barriers.

The Liberals campaigned on easing restrictions during the provincial election last spring. They followed through on those promises in June — ending the need for approval by two doctors, ultrasound tests and blood work. A woman needs only to set up an appointment in Moncton and show up for the procedure.

The Guardian has long supported the right for Island women to access full reproductive services in their own province and applauded these moves by government.

Obstacles remain. And there is still the stigma of having to leave the province when the procedure can be done here without any staffing changes required or new equipment costs. It’s not equal access and it is discriminatory.

Health P.E.I. came so close some two years ago with a pilot project. A monthly abortion clinic involving a N.S. doctor offering free services was about to launch when the province stepped in to kill the plan.

The court challenge isn’t if abortion is right or wrong. The courts will not rule on the great moral debate — if abortion is ending an innocent life. It’s a matter of discrimination against Island women who face barriers to reproductive health care services available to women in every other province. On this charter issue, the courts will rule in favour of the lawsuit. It’s a lost cause for the province. The challenge correctly follows the path to victory.

Pro-life groups proudly trumpet that P.E.I. is the last “life sanctuary” in North America. Those proclamations placed the province in the crosshairs of pro-choice and women’s rights groups who view P.E.I. as a quaint, backwater clinging to antiquated legislation. They see ghosts of a dark past involving coat hangers, back alleys and botched abortions that threatened the life and health of desperate women.

This week, the province was the focus of critical national attention because of its outdated abortion policies.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it’s important that every Canadian across this country has access to full reproductive services, in every province in the country. It’s a powerful message for this province.

There doesn’t seem to be much stomach to fight this court case by the province.

The premier has conceded the issue is political. Just the threat of legal action should decide the matter.

Until last June, abortion had never been raised during question period in the P.E.I. legislature. Politicians still believed that P.E.I. is a socially conservative province.

They underestimate Islanders. We have endorsed Syrian immigrants when others hesitated. We elected the first ethnic premier in Canada in Joe Ghiz. We elected the first female premier in Canada in Catherine Callbeck. We elected an openly gay premier last year.

In many ways we are a progressive province. The government can be assured that a

majority of Islanders don’t care if — or indeed support — abortions being performed in Island hospitals.

 It’s the right thing to do. After all, it is 2016.