Women in Prince Edward Island will soon have access to abortions on the Island, ending decades of patients being forced to travel outside the province for the medical procedure.
The P.E.I. government says it won’t fight a legal challenge put forward by rights group Abortion Access Now P.E.I. that argues for the province to provide abortions under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"We have been advised the probabilities are very low that the province could successfully defend policies that provide a legal, provincially funded medical procedure only if obtained outside of the province," Premier Wade MacLauchlan said at a news conference in Charlottetown.
P.E.I. has begun taking steps to establish a clinic somewhere on the island where women can see a doctor to perform an abortion. The clinic is expected by the end of 2016.
Currently, women who are no more than 16 weeks pregnant and seeking an abortion must travel to a hospital in Halifax, N.S. or Moncton, N.B. The service is covered through P.E.I. Medicare.
Still, activists say this travel presents financial and logistical barriers for many patients and is rooted in an outdated “moral stance” from a previous provincial government.
“It’s really important that the P.E.I. government has acknowledged its constitutional obligations to residents of P.E.I.,” said Kim Stanton, legal director of the Women’s Legal Education and Access Fund (LEAF), which helped Abortion Access Now P.E.I. with the case.
The province’s health minister says the government recognizes the importance of “timely access” to “women’s reproductive health services.”
“The co-location of services, including counseling and support services, will provide a wider level of support for women and best use of public health care resources,” P.E.I. Health and Wellness Minister Robert Henderson said in a statement.
Abortion was decriminalized across Canada in 1988, following the trial of Dr. Henry Morgentaler, the Polish-born physician who performed abortions in Canada years before the Supreme Court ruling.
After the landmark decision, the P.E.I. government took steps to block the service.
“They passed a nonbinding resolution in their legislature after the Morgentaler decision in the late 1980s. And they said that abortion won’t be provided on this island. So it was a moral stance, not a legal stance,” Stanton said.
Prime Minster Justin Trudeau, who was in Washington, D.C. at the time of the announcement, applauded the news via Twitter.
“A woman’s right to choose is fundamental in Canada. We welcome today’s announcement by P.E.I. Premier MacLaughlan on reproductive services,” Trudeau said.
A woman’s right to choose is fundamental in Canada. We welcome today’s announcement by PEI Premier MacLauchlan on reproductive services.— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) March 31, 2016