See you in court
Abortion-rights advocates take legal action against P.E.I. government over lack of on-Island services
The government of Prince Edward Island is being sued over its refusal to provide abortion services on the Island.
Abortion Access Now P.E.I., a local advocacy group that recently incorporated in the province, has advised the deputy attorney general it will file an action in the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island against the P.E.I. government and Health Minister Doug Currie in 90 days.
Spokeswoman Ann Wheatley says Island women have been fighting for over two decades for on-Island, safe, legal access to abortion.
“Unfortunately, it is clear to us that nothing short of a court order will prompt the government to comply with its obligations to P.E.I. residents under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” said Wheatley, who is cochair of Abortion Access Now P.E.I.
Prince Edward Island is the only province in Canada that does not provide in-province abortion services.
P.E.I. women no longer have to seek two preliminary doctors’ referrals, an ultrasound or blood work prior to going off-Island for provincially-covered abortions - all steps necessary prior to June 2015.
But Island women still need to travel out of the province at their own cost, including the $46 Confederation Bridge toll.
“Unfortunately, it is clear to us that nothing short of a court order will prompt the government to comply with its obligations to P.E.I. residents under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
The issue of abortion access in P.E.I. dominated headlines throughout 2015, with politicians running in both provincial and federal elections facing questions regularly on the campaign trail.
Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced questions about abortion during two visits to P.E.I. in 2015.
He hinted the province might soon have to change its policy.
“I recognize that Premier (Wade) MacLauchlan has made positive steps in the right direction, but it’s important that every Canadian across this country has access to a full range of health services, including full reproductive services, in every province in the country.”
UPEI professor Colleen MacQuarrie conducted a research study in 2014 that concluded P.E.I.’s limited access to abortion services has led to risks to women’s health due, in part, to some women attempting to selfabort. She says P.E.I.’s policy of sending women out-of-province for abortion services is discriminatory.
“It is time for our equality rights to matter. P.E.I.’s discriminatory and unlawful abortion policy must end.”
Abortion Access Now P.E.I. Inc. is being represented in its court action by Nijhawan McMillan Barristers of Halifax and is receiving litigation support from the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), a national, equality rights organization.
Kim Staton, LEAF’s legal director, says this Supreme Court action will be a Charter challenge and an administrative law challenge.
“In our view, P.E.I.’s abortion policy violates the right of Island women to equal access to health-care services under the equality rights provisions of the charter,” Staton said.
“P.E.I.’s policy unlawfully discriminates on the basis of sex and pregnancy because it excludes abortion, which is a basic health-care service required by women from the health-care services offered in P.E.I.”
Staton says they are willing to go the distance in fighting this in court, although she admits it will be costly.
She says she is confident people will be moved to donate to this case.
“I think Canadians will respond. It’s such a profound affront to equality rights that women in one of the provinces doesn’t have access to a basic health care service that women in all the other provinces can access.”
A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office of P.E.I. noted the province did make changes this year to improve access to abortion services for Island women.
“Government has just received notice and will be reviewing very carefully, and in consultation with legal counsel, the material to be filed. Government will respond accordingly in due course.”
Ann Wheatley, co-chairwoman of Abortion Access Now P.E.I., the plaintiff in a court action launched against the government of Prince Edward Island and Health Minister Doug Currie, was busy most of Tuesday helping answer calls from local and national media about the lawsuit.