A right for all

Toronto Star - - WORLD -

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

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