Prince Edward Island Liberal Premier Wade MacLauchlan announced on March 31 that the province would make abortion available on the Island by the end of the year.
The provincial government was under pressure from the Liberal government in Ottawa to provide surgical abortion services even though the provincial health plan was liberalized in 2015 to make it easier for women to obtain abortions off the Island in both Halifax and Fredericton, paying the full cost of the procedure and eliminating the need for a doctor’s referral. Neither federal Health Minister Jane Philpott nor the abortion activist group Abortion Access Now PEI were satisfied with the liberalization plans. Philpott said the goal was that women need not leave the Island for their abortions and Abortion Access Now PEI gave notice in January that they planned to sue the provincial government to make abortion more readily available, arguing it was unconstitutional to deny women access within their own communities.
MacLauchlan said in a press release that the province would probably lose its court case. “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, the government determined that the most responsible approach is to revise the policy rather than embark on a long and costly court case,” he said.
MacLauchlan also said that the province would launch a “comprehensive approach to women’s health” that would include medical and surgical abortions, and perhaps fertility treatment and post-partum depression counselling. “We recognize that Islanders, including members of the legislative assembly, have strong personal beliefs on this issue,” the Premier stated. “We also recognize our obligation to provide timely and professional health care, without discrimination.”
While details have yet to be released, it is expected that the women’s health facility will be located in Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
The changes are regulatory and do not require a vote in the provincial legislature.
PEI has been abortion-free since 1986 when the province’s Right to Life group successfully lobbied Prince County Hospital in Summerside to rescind its therapeutic abortion committee. Five years earlier, PEI RTL convinced the newly opened Queen Elizabeth Hospital not to establish such a committee. The provincial health plan had, for 30 years, paid for women who had an abortion referral from their physician to have the procedure carried out in Halifax hospitals.
In a statement, Campaign Life Coalition condemned the new policy. CLC criticized the “decision by the PEI government to allow abortionists to kill pre-born human beings on the Island and to force taxpayers to pay for these abortions.” CLC national president Jim Hughes said that MacLauchlan, Health Minister Rob Henderson, and Minister for the Status of Women, Paula Biggar “claimed that they have listened to both sides of the debate, but in reality the only position they cared about was the one they shared with pro-abortion activists.”
Interim PC Party leader Jamie Fox, leader of the opposition, told the CBC “I am pro-life. However, I do realize there are times and circumstances that have to be taken into account.” He called MacLauchlan’s policy statement “a good announcement.”
Abortion advocates are not entirely pleased, however. The Ottawa-based Action Canada for Sexual and Reproductive Rights is already calling for even more abortion access saying “the gold-standard medical abortion drug Mifegymiso” to be made available across the province in order “to expand access to both surgical and medical abortion services outside of Charlottetown.”