Give Credit Where Credit is Due
By Anne Mazer
In the wake of the recent announcement that abortion services will finally be made available to Island women, much praise has been showered on the Premier and his government. But this long overdue change, like all policy change that works toward social justice, is not the product of altruistic decision-makers or political ‘leadership.’ Rather, it is the generations of women supporting each other, teaching each other, and fighting for our rights who have brought about this history. Forever, in every culture, in every corner of the world, women have been helping women with pregnancies; women helping women with wanted and unwanted pregnancies, with giving birth, with miscarriages, with raising children, their own and others’, with raising their children’s children. Unwanted pregnancies and not new. Abortion is part of ancient history.
PEI’s history of reproductive justice is our history; the Premier, and before him the courts, simply acknowledged what was always, already there.
On June 3, 1986, access to abortion services in PEI was discontinued, as a result of a hospital members’ vote at the Prince County Hospital in Summerside. This vote dissolved the Island’s sole remaining Therapeutic Abortion Committee. There had been a similar vote in Charlottetown on June 25, 1981, when the membership of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (the amalgamation of the Charlottetown and Prince Edward Hospitals), voted against the establishment of a Therapeutic Abortion Committee at the new facility.
On January 28, 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada decriminalized abortion, giving women the right to abortion on request without restrictions. In response to this, two months later, on March 30, the PEI government passed a resolution that stated,
“WHEREAS the great majority of people of Prince Edward Island believe that life begins at conception and any policy that permits abortion is unacceptable;
AND WHEREAS the great majority of Islanders demand that their elected officials show leadership on this very important issue and demonstrate the political will to protect the unborn fetus;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island oppose the performing of abortions.”
On January 5, 2016, a group of Island women, represented by two women lawyers from Halifax and with the support of a national women’s legal organization, served notice to the PEI government that in 90 days they would be filing a lawsuit to force the province to provide full, unrestricted access to publicly funded surgical and medical abortion services in PEI. On March 31, four days before the end of the 90 day period, the government announced that they had decided not to contest the lawsuit and that by the end of this year medical and surgical abortion services would be available to women in this province.
This decision was based on the advice of government lawyers that there was little probability the province could defend its policy of sending Island women out-of-province for abortion services; a policy that had for 28 years run “contrary to equal rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as Charter guarantees of the security of the person.”
Health PEI has been directed, in consultation with some women’s groups, to begin planning for a full women’s reproductive health centre that will offer medical and surgical abortions, and a number of other services.
For the past 28 years, since the PEI legislature officially voted to block local abortion access, women, individually and in groups, have continued to help each other by offering support and assistance in obtaining safe and timely abortions off-island. Now, the policy has officially changed, but our ways will not. Women will be keeping a close eye on this process, women helping women, as is our way. It is what we do. Let us acknowledge and honour us.
PEI will soon NO LONGER be the only province in Canada that does not provide local access to surgical abortion!
March 31, 2016 - LEAF and AANPEI Welcome Announcement that
PEI Government Will End Its Discriminatory Abortion Policy
On January 5, 2016, Abortion Access Now PEI (AAN PEI), with the support of the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), gave notice that it would be filing a legal challenge to Prince Edward Island’s discriminatory and unlawful abortion policy not to provide abortions in the province. Today, the Prince Edward Island (PEI) government took the momentous step of announcing an end to that policy. Premier Wade MacLauchlan has announced that PEI will open a women’s health clinic in the province as soon as possible, which will offer a full complement of reproductive health services, including complete access to abortion services.
In making this announcement, Premier MacLauchlan recognized that it is the PEI government’s Charter obligation to provide abortion services in PEI and that his government therefore would not contest AAN PEI’s legal challenge.
LEAF and AAN PEI enthusiastically welcome the government’s acknowledgment of its constitutional obligation to provide meaningful local access to reproductive health services to Island women.
LEAF and AAN PEI expect that this announcement will result in full local access to abortion in short order, and look forward to participating in the implementation of this promise. We remain committed to holding the government to account with respect to its announced plan.
LEAF and AAN PEI are proud to have played a role in bringing about this historic change. This outcome would not have been possible without the tremendous efforts of the activists in PEI who have tirelessly advocated for abortion access in the province over the last three decades, as well as the brave women who have come forward to share their personal stories. Their extraordinary commitment and resolve have brought about this sea change in government policy. We are deeply honoured to work with them. LEAF and AAN PEI also wish to acknowledge AAN PEI counsel Nasha Nijhawan and Kelly McMillan of Nijhawan McMillan Barristers in Halifax for their legal brilliance, commitment, tenacity and skill in bringing about this remarkable result.
Today is a good day for equality rights in PEI!
About ABORTION ACCESS NOW PEI
Abortion Access Now PEI Inc. (AAN PEI) was formed in 2015 by a group of long-standing advocates for women's equality and reproductive rights on Prince Edward Island and is dedicated to returning local access to safe abortions to the province. We promote, advocate for and strive to create the conditions for full and unfettered access to surgical and medical abortion services including diagnostic and follow-up care, in PEI, paid for by the PEI healthcare system.
AAN PEI is working to build on the research and existing evidence in the community that has documented effects on Island women and their families of the PEI Government’s policies, protocols, and practices that relate to abortion. Our work includes promoting discussion and public awareness of the issues surrounding abortion in PEI.
We are a member of the coalition of organizations working through the Abortion Rights Network (ARN).
Want to learn more about how PEI's abortion policy impacts women? Check out these resources: