April 30th, 2015
by Maria Campbell
Citizens of Prince Edward Island are going to the polls on May 4th. Your vote, like mine, carries weight and value, and this May I want to put that weight behind the right candidate – someone who reflects my beliefs in fairness and dignity for all Islanders. There are many issues to debate going into this election but I see one issue in particular that acts as the canary in the coal mine, indicating whether a party does or does not value equality, and the health and safety of so many Islanders. That issue is the controversial topic of abortion access on Prince Edward Island.
It is important to reiterate the fact that abortion in Canada, including PEI, is legal and is considered by the Canada Health Act to be a ‘medically necessary’ procedure that is to be fully funded by the province, whether performed in hospitals or clinics. (ARCC) The procedure is performed in consideration of the girl or woman’s physical and mental well-being. PEI is the only province in Canada that does not offer access to these medically necessary services.
Many people and political parties on PEI believe that because there are a number of health services that are not provided locally, pregnancy termination is not a special case and should not be treated as such. I cannot help but think that the people who believe this have never had to endure the often trying and highly affecting experience of traveling off-Island for an abortion. Perhaps they’ve never stopped to consider why an abortion is different from a knee replacement or other routine medical procedures.
Here are a few reasons the process of seeking abortion services presents unique challenges that are not present when seeking other routine medical procedures:
- Abortion requires a doctor’s referral. Some doctors on PEI regularly refuse to give referrals for this procedure meaning women must seek one elsewhere.
- Abortion is a time sensitive procedure, which means it is only applicable for a short period and you cannot simply schedule it at a time that suits your home, professional or personal life.
- Abortion still carries a powerful and threatening stigma in our culture that shames and silences women, and creates further resource barriers to keep women from accessing this service.
These challenges often force the women of PEI into a corner with records showing unsafe, illegal, and failed abortion attempts documented on PEI each year. A local clinic would diminish the unnecessary trauma of the experience, offer a time and money saving process to seek treatment, and provide a safe environment that offers dignity to the women who use the service.
Last year, a working group in government at Health PEI presented a proposal to return abortion services to P.E.I. Providing the local access to service would not only save women using the service tens of thousands of dollars and the province $37,000 annually, but it was a better alignment with legal and health objectives. It was a win-win situation. In a bizarre twist, the project was halted by the Liberal government. Read the details of the project’s dismissal under the heading Premier raises obstacles in this CBC News article.
When the Liberals cancelled the proposal that presented viable options for abortion services on PEI, they made a choice to uphold the barriers that stand between Islanders and safe reproductive health services. I see their awareness of the challenges that surround the reproductive health system, and their deliberate rejection of a plan for improvement, as encouraging a system of oppression against Island girls and women.
So where do the four parties currently stand? There are two camps – the PC and Liberal parties are in one, as the leaders of both have stated there will be no change to the current system, and no local access will be granted. And the Green and NDP parties are in the other, with both leaders expressing the need for a complete women’s health centre on PEI, that would offer reproductive health services like treatment for infertility, post-partum depression and pregnancy termination.
The continued lack of access creates a perception that abortion is a taboo topic and instills fear in those who want to speak out about the issue. This fear of speaking out and being shamed has led many women to remain silent on this important issue in Prince Edward Island. I’m speaking to this issue as an Island woman but I’m inviting all Islanders to continue the conversation in your circles and to act as allies to the women of PEI. You need not experience the challenges of the current system first hand in order to understand why it presents unfair and unnecessary obstacles for Island women.
The recent announcement of no planned changes to the status quo made by the current Premier, Wade MacLauchlan, demonstrated that the Liberals are still not in support of better, more affordable reproductive health care options for our women. For this reason a change in government is necessary to secure women’s reproductive health in PEI. I feel that no government should deny a feasible and responsible plan for access to necessary health services and in doing so, continue to knowingly compromise the health of women and girls on Prince Edward Island. It is up to the PC and Liberal party leaders to employ empathy and perspective taking, and recognize that although they may never personally be faced with the need to directly access the services in question, they do have the power to address the inequity here for Island women and to restore dignity to women who use our reproductive health system. As a voter, you can help do the same by voting appropriately on May 4th. Be an ally to change for us all and especially for these women; they are your daughters, your sisters, your friends, and your neighbours, and they need your vote to help grant safe and affordable reproductive health care here at home.
Check out Abortion Rights PEI for more information.
Maria Campbell is a freelance writer, musician and artist. She is passionate about inciting progress and opportunity in her beautiful home province of Prince Edward Island.