By: Taya Nabuurs

Prince Edward Island is currently the only province in Canada that does not provide surgical abortions. Women seeking such a procedure are required to travel off-Island to either Moncton or Halifax. The cost for the procedure itself is covered by the province, but costs for travel, meals, and accommodations are the responsibility of the individual. Seeing as the provision of abortion services in an accessible manner is legally protected in Canada and expected to be upheld by the provinces, a local advocacy group announced recently that it is taking the government to court over its failure to “comply to its obligations to PEI residents under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

However, this situation is not just a legal failure, but a provincial policy failure. Former Premier Robert Ghiz and former Minister of Health, Doug Currie, have both cited in previous statements regarding the matter that providing abortion services on Prince Edward Island is “against provincial government policy.” Upon extensive research into the matter, this “provincial government policy” is extremely hard to find explicitly stated in any format and as it turns out, is quite buried. The lawyers who drafted the case against the provincial government spent a year trying to dig up this proclaimed policy. Even if such a policy does exist, one would assume automatically that the government must have it in place for either economic, social, or health reasons, perhaps? Upon inspection, it’s clear that such barriers do not exist.

In 2014, Health PEI commissioned a business case outlining a proposal for the repatriation of abortion services to the Island. It was noted that this business case would save the province approximately $37,000 if abortion services were performed at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, and would save Island women individually-incurred costs of approximately $50,000 – $80,000. The economic benefits to both the province and its citizens is evident and clearly outlined.

If this initiative would in fact save the government money, then perhaps there must be social barriers? The drafted Health PEI business case once again proved that this was not the case, noting the benefits to child development of planned births versus unplanned births, the increase in instances of anxiety and depression among parents of unplanned children, and the decrease in the gender pay gap experienced by those with proper access to family planning services. It is evident how better access to abortion services is beneficial also to the social well-being of Canadian societies.

In that case, perhaps we can assume there is a risk of detrimental effects to the health of Island women that must be restricting the implementation of abortion clinics? Again, this is not the case. Studies have shown that women who wish to get an abortion will take drastic measures if barriers are in place that disallow them from accessing abortion services. This desperation often leads to attempts at various extremely dangerous and potentially fatal methods of self-inducing miscarriages. We know that creating barriers to abortion access does nothing in terms of reducing the number of abortions, and is only effective in threatening the physical and psychological well-being of the women they affect.

A common counter-argument in the Island abortion debate surrounds the existence – or lack thereof – of other medical services on Prince Edward Island. As the country’s smallest province, there are many specialists and medical services that do not exist here and therefore many procedures that cannot be performed on-Island. In lieu of this fact, we might ask why the province should focus its attention on providing abortion services on the Island when all of these other services are lacking as well? Well, there are many factors that play into the availability of health care services in our province, and each situation is very different. Most commonly, these factors pertain to the unavailability of resources. However, this does not hold true for access to abortion services on PEI. As we know already, the business case for the proposal of an abortion clinic on the Island outlines that the medical professionals, equipment, and funds are all available to be able to provide this service on the Island, and the funds saved from pursuing such a service could be allocated towards other much-needed medical services in the province.

So what could possibly be preventing our elected representatives from implementing a policy that would be beneficial to the economic, social, psychological, and physical well-being of Islanders? The only real barrier lies in the weak-willed politicians in this province who are more concerned with maintaining the status quo and appeasing the aging population of our province and their religious affiliations than they are with maintaining Island women’s right to health services that allow them the liberty to make autonomous decisions about their own bodies. It is time that the Prince Edward Island provincial policy on access to abortion services reflects the principles of logical policy-making and mirror the rights afforded to women in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.