Canada’s abortion law may have been struck down by the Supreme Court in 1988, but access continues to be spotty across the country. On Tuesday, Abortion Access Now P.E.I., a pro-choice advocacy group, announced it will be taking Prince Edward Island’s government to court for refusing to provide surgical abortions, instead referring women to physicians in other provinces.
Right now, P.E.I. is the only province that does not offer the procedure, and it hasn’t since 1982. And although P.E.I. covers the cost of the procedure in designated hospitals in Halifax and Moncton, women must pay for their own travel and accommodation. “It’s just obvious to the women who have been working on this issue for over two decades that nothing is going to change unless the P.E.I. government is required to change,”says Kim Stanton, legal director at the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, the organization supporting Abortion Access Now P.E.I.’s lawsuit. She considers abortion a “basic health service.”
In an email to Chatelaine, a spokesperson for P.E.I.’s Attorney General’s Office provided a statement indicating that they are reviewing the notice in consultation with legal counsel and will respond in “due course.”
“Last year government announced the removal of a number of barriers to improve access to abortion services for Island women,” the statement reads. One of those steps was allowing women to book procedures directly at the Moncton hospital without requiring a referral from a P.E.I. doctor. CBC reported that since the new rules were implemented last July, 49 women have accessed the service.
In Stanton’s eyes, that development was “a minor improvement over no access.” She also explains that the province has proven it’s able to provide the service and chooses not to, pointing to a 2014 CBC investigation which revealed a business case made by Health P.E.I. to hold an abortion clinic twice a month in P.E.I. Even with two doctors coming into the province from Nova Scotia to attend the clinic, the plan projected that both the government and women receiving the procedure would save money. The government quashed the plan.
But perhaps worst of all, according to Stanton, “the government policy has perpetuated the stigma that women experience around their reproductive health.”