Pro-choice advocates of Prince Edward Island can finally relax. They put down their picket signs and let out sighs out of relief because future generations of women will not have to jump through hoops to have basic access to surgical abortions on the Island. It has been nearly thirty years since abortion was decriminalized across Canada, but Prince Edward Island just agreed to lift all barriers, allowing an abortion clinic to be set up in-province. In January 2016, Abortion Access PEI, a pro-choice advocacy group, launched a lawsuit against the government accusing them of denying women rights based on a moral choice they don’t have the right to make. The provincial government announced on March 31st that they will not fight the lawsuit after being informed that they would not be able to win the legal battle since they have an obligation under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to offer surgical abortion services. Abortion Access PEI hopes to have the first abortion clinic open by the end of 2016.
There is no denying that this is a great accomplishment for pro-choice advocates and the health care access in Canada, but why did it take the local government so much longer than the rest of Canada’s provinces to get on board? While the rest of the country was setting up clinics to provide women with access to this procedure, Prince Edward Island’s government was passing a nonbinding resolution to not offer abortion on the island. Since this measure was not binding, it was not a legal measure the government made, but a moral one. One suggested motive is the strong affiliation between Christianity and the pro-life movement. Pope Francis, on behalf of the Catholic Church said, “Among the vulnerable for whom the church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us.” Christianity is by far the most dominant religion on the island; according to Stats Canada over 80% of residents on the island are Christian. This could have an effect on the moral stance of the government of Prince Edward Island who has been vocally pro-life in the long and heated dispute.
The effects of lack of access to abortion services have been tragic for the women of Prince Edward Island. The government only recently started paying for the procedure for some women after they met the requirements of two doctors. Other women were forced to pay out of pocket for abortions that can cost up to $800. This does not include the cost of leaving the island, transportation, and hotel stays that are often necessary after the surgery. The financial strain is tremendous but there are also physical barriers such as bridge closures due to inclement weather conditions, preventing women from getting to their appointments. Women have turned to unsafe methods of home abortion methods that range from inserting a coat hanger, knitting needle etc. into the uterus as well as chemical pills. There have also been cases of women physically assaulting themselves by punching their uterus, falling down stairs, and even taking their own lives.
Finally, the women of Prince Edward Island will be granted the same right to access to abortion services as the rest of their fellow Canadians. Regardless of your stance on abortion, we can still wonder why it took the government of Prince Edward Island thirty years to make a decision that the rest of the country made so long ago, especially when this decision denied citizens the rights ensured in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.