The Canadian province of Prince Edward Island (PEI) appears to have caved in to pressure to provide abortions, as a result of a threatened lawsuit, due to be tabled in court on 4 April, a suit they might have lost.
“Based on legal advice that current policies regarding access to in-province abortion services would likely be in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, government determined that the most responsible approach is to revise the policy rather than embark on a long and costly court case,” Premier and Minister of Justice Wade MacLauchlan said in a statement. “We recognize that Islanders, including Members of the Legislative Assembly, have strong personal beliefs on this issue; we also recognize our obligation to provide timely and professional health care, without discrimination.”
The province has said the new reproductive health centre, which will also offer counselling and other reproductive health services, will be up and running by the end of this year. “Public policy must be reassessed and revised to ensure it stands the test of time,” PEI’s Status of Women Minister Paula Bigger said in a statement. “The decision we’re announcing today means that we will offer timely access to frontline services that align with women’s equality rights.”
This announcement is a victory for Abortion Access Now PEI, which had announced in January its plans to sue the provincial government over the lack of access. “It’s amazing. It’s very, very good news,” said Ann Wheatley, co-chair of the group. “It’s really a testament to all the amazing work, the hard work, that activists for the last 30 years have been putting into this.”
Access varies between provinces, but PEI has been the only province where women cannot get an abortion at all. The province only recently began to cover some of the cost of abortions PEI residents obtained in Nova Scotia or New Brunswick.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed the news Thursday. “The Government of Canada reaffirms its belief that a woman should have access to reproductive health services, no matter where they live in our country,” he said in a statement. (He also tweeted his support)
It is also welcome news for the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, which was helping with the lawsuit.
Health Minister Jane Philpott has admitted abortion access is “patchy” and said she wants to improve access to reproductive care in Canada, and she’s talking to provincial health ministers about how to do that.
Health PEI is expected to develop plans for a women’s reproductive health centre somewhere on the Island. According to Joyce Arthur, Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, several doctors had earlier submitted a cost-saving business plan to Health PEI to provide abortions on the Island. Perhaps this application will now stand a chance.
We need to talk about abortion. Abortion Rights PEI video: