See you in court

Abor­tion-rights ad­vo­cates take le­gal ac­tion against P.E.I. gov­ern­ment over lack of on-Is­land ser­vices

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY TERESA WRIGHT

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.”

Ann Wheat­ley

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.”

NIGEL ARM­STRONG/THE GUARDIAN

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.

MacQuar­rie

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