A right for all
It’s been almost 30 years since the Supreme Court of Canada struck down a criminal law that restricted access to abortions. Yet, incredibly, women in Prince Edward Island are still fighting for the right to receive the legal procedure in hospitals in their own province.
Indeed, P.E.I. is the only province where women cannot access a surgical abortion in hospitals or clinics. They must travel to Nova Scotia or New Brunswick for the procedure, even though the province pays for it.
That may soon change. A group called Abortion Access Now PEI announced this week it is mounting a challenge based on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms against the province to force it to provide hospital abortions.
Premier Wade MacLauchlan should not wait for the case to be heard at the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island. Instead, he should overturn the province’s unconscionable ban on legal abortions — now.
Though previous Canadian court rulings have found governments are under no obligation to provide certain services, legal experts say Abortion Access has a strong case against P.E.I.
According to Kim Stanton, legal director of the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, which is providing support for the case, those arguing the Charter challenge argue that:
The province is violating the rights of women to equal access to health care services.
The ban discriminates on sex and pregnancy provisions in the Charter because it excludes abortion services, a basic health care service required by women on the island.
And it creates barriers to women’s right to exercise control over decisions of fundamental personal importance.
The challengers further argue that the province’s abortion policy is contrary to its own health plan. Under that, says Stanton, it has a commitment to efficiency and equity.
P.E.I. may be the only province that actually refuses to allow abortions in its hospitals, but it is far from the only province where women must travel long distances for a safe hospital procedure.
Indeed, new federal Health Minister Jane Philpott said in November she will look into Canada’s “patchy” abortion services. “Our government will examine ways to better equalize access for all Canadian women,” she said then.
The minister can start by encouraging Premier MacLauchlan to overturn P.E.I.’s ban on abortions, and avoid a lengthy and expensive court battle.
Prince Edward Island women are still fighting for the right to receive a legal hospital abortion