Meanwhile, in the Smallest Canadian Province…

9 Dec
With the ongoing kerfuffle in each American state over the limits and accessibility of abortion, it can be hard even for the Canadian reader to follow the developments around abortion up here in the frozen north. News moves slower here, like a glacier. Because it’s cold. Or maybe not, I just wanted to follow that metaphor through to completion.

The point is, things ARE happening up here! In Prince Edward Island, the only province where there are no abortion services whatsoever, activists are speaking up about it. The last few weeks have been a flurry of news and activity around PEI – population just over 140,000 – as the long-simmering abortion debate exploded.

Let me catch you up. Abortion is legal in Canada: or, more accurately, no abortion law exists. So while technically there is nothing illegal about seeking an abortion up to the moment of birth, because doctors tend to self-regulate, you will not find a doctor who will perform an abortion after 24 weeks gestation. Most late-term abortions are referred to the US, in fact.

Because health care is provincial jurisdiction, some provinces have taken it upon themselves to hamper access to abortion in super fun ways that are almost always illegal, but which no government is keen to touch because of the divisive nature of the issue. The clearest example of this is in New Brunswick, where someone seeking abortion cannot have the procedure covered by Medicare unless it is performed in a hospital, with referrals from two doctors. A lawsuit against the province over this has been in bureaucratic purgatory for several years.

In PEI (a neighbour to New Brunswick, and one of the eastern provinces in a cluster we call the Maritimes), the situation is more dire. There are literally no abortion services available. If you need an abortion and you live in PEI, you basically have two choices: 1. Drive/fly to Fredericton (NB) and pay out of pocket for an abortion in the private clinic there (currently ranging from $600 to $800), or 2. Drive/fly to Halifax (Nova Scotia) to have it performed at the hospital, where it will be covered by Medicare thanks to a reciprocal billing agreement between the two provinces.

There are a lot of barriers to accessing an abortion from PEI then; the main one being geographical. If you need an abortion, you have to get off the island. Which is completely unacceptable, and now the people of PEI and their allies are speaking out.

A newly formed group called PEI Reproductive Rights Organization held a rally a few weeks ago at the provincial legislature in Charlottetown, attracting about 150 supporters. As someone who spent three years organizing pro-choicers in New Brunswick, I can tell you that 150 people is a wildly impressive number considering the population, socially conservative values, and apathetic climate of that region. People care about this issue: it is urgent.

Comments being forced out of official channels are not surprising. Health PEI insists that because abortion is legal, that is sufficient; whether or not it is accessible is apparently up to the whims of the provincial government. The PEI Medical Society has been cagey, but basically is supporting the status quo, calling abortion a divisive issue and getting defensive about the doctors’ freedom of conscience.

On the plus side, momentum is building. Now more than ever it is impossible to expect women to accept the expensive reality of exercising their freedom of “choice”; the Maritimes has always been poor, and it is a well-known injustice that rich women will always be able to access abortion. The new crop of activists in PEI are strong, motivated, and have a lot of support behind them; their recent actions will hopefully also serve to build the morale of the pro-choice lobby in New Brunswick, whose ongoing battle has settled into an uncomfortable stalemate.

Here’s more on the PRRO and here’s a round-up of news on the situation.


3 Responses to “Meanwhile, in the Smallest Canadian Province…”

  1. Amandah December 9, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

    You’ll actually be happy to know, that despite the media’s coverage saying there were 150 people, there were well over 250 people there supporting PRRO and the right to access. I think there were just over 200 signatures on the petition that was going around that day. Here’s hoping something will come of this. Great writing 🙂


  1. Support a young Canadian activist being targeted by anti-abortion folks | Abortion Gang - February 23, 2012

    […] have written before about the dismal state of reproductive rights and abortion access on Prince Edward Island. Well, […]

  2. Fighting for PEI – How You Can Help! | Abortion Gang - March 21, 2012

    […] may recall my previous writing on Prince Edward Island, the only Canadian province where there are absolutely no abortion […]

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