By Lindsay Handren
Far from a topic for conversation at the coffee shop, abortion is an issue often swept under the rug. It is a sad moment in the life of any woman and is rarely taken lightly, but condoms break, birth control doesn’t always work, and safe sex simply isn’t always that. In a decision citing Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which affirms the security of person, the right to abortion for Canadian women was recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1988. Since then, the practice of abortion has been both legal and unrestricted throughout the country.
Except on Prince Edward Island.
In direct defiance of the Canada Health Act’s guarantees of accessibility, Prince Edward Island is the only Canadian province that does not provide abortion services. It is also the only province requiring doctors’ referrals for the procedure. Picking up on a behind-the-scenes movement in the Island community, the PEI Reproductive Rights Organization (PRRO) — newcomers with a blossoming support base – are working to change this.Two of the organization’s founders, Kandace Hagen and Sam Wight, sat down with The Cadre to discuss the issue at hand.
Speaking of her own experience with abortion, Hagen recounts meeting with a family physician whose reluctance to provide information and to follow established medical procedures left her concerned for her reproductive health. Now, she is part of an organization fighting for the reproductive rights of Island women.
“This is something the rest of Canada is privileged to,” she said. “It’s already legal. Our island is simply preventing us from accessing that right.”
A minor day-surgery, abortion is a medical procedure that could be easily performed at Island hospitals. Unbeknownst to many, abortions were previously performed on Prince Edward Island on a case-by-case basis from 1969-1982 and funded by the provincial government. These days, Island women seeking abortions have two options: The Mortengaler Clinic in Fredericton, or the QEII Hospital in Halifax. Service at the former, a private clinic, costs $800.00 – add on travel expenses, accommodations, and a driver, and you’re looking at well over $1000.00, a sum unrealistic for many Islanders. Service at the latter requires doctors’ referrals, but travel expenses are still not covered by the Island government.
Hagen herself was dismissed without a referral, and notes that she knows better now.
“Most women don’t know that they have a right to demand a referral. I didn’t know, or I would have requested one.”
Wight agrees, adding that the PRRO is working to ensure that women know the options available to them and how better to access those options.
Today, the government of Premier Robert Ghiz is refusing to take action on the issue of providing abortion services on Prince Edward Island. Ghiz himself states that it simply isn’t “on the agenda right now.” How exactly something that is entrenched in Canadian Law and guaranteed by the Canada Health Act can simply not be on the agenda astounds.
Though only officially formed two months ago, the PRRO is quickly receiving widespread media attention in such outlets as The Guardian, The Ottawa Citizen, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, and CBC Radio’s The Current. Across the water, even Choice Ireland have taken notice. In every publication, the group’s message is clear:
“We’re not out to change minds on whether abortion is right or wrong,” Hagen affirms, “We just believe that Islanders should have the same access as the rest of the country.”
Hagen and Wight both said that women have thanked them for bringing the issue to light. With a rally planned to take place at Province House on November 19th, the PRRO hopes vocal support turns into action. It is an issue of rights, and one that will not be easily dismissed.
With support of the Green Party and NDP, the PRRO is seeking out the support of the Liberal and Conservative parties, and is currently in the process of preparing a formal address to Minister Doug Currie. The bottom line here is simple: Island women are being denied rights. Until that changes, the PRRO isn’t backing down.
“This isn’t something we’re going to back down from,” Hagen affirms. “We can’t let the Provincial Government continue to strip women of their reproductive rights. Until we are equal to federal law, we’re not going anywhere.”