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Canada's Smallest Province Finally Moves to Allow Abortions

Decades after abortion became fully legal in Canada, Prince Edward Island has bowed to pressure and agreed to offer the medical procedure.
March 31, 2016, 5:50pm
Photo via Abortion Access in the Maritimes, a VICE documentary.

For the first time in 35 years, abortion will be performed on Prince Edward Island.

The government of Canada's smallest province announced today it will acquiesce to the movement calling for abortion care on the Island. Pro-choice advocates sobbed openly at a news conference on Thursday afternoon.

It's the largest win for pro-choice advocates in the province's history. Until now, PEI was the last province in Canada refusing to provide abortions, opting instead to send women outside of the province to get an abortion.

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Premier Wade MacLauchlan announced the creation of a reproductive care center at the news conference Thursday. In addition to abortion, it's mandated to provide IVF and postpartum counseling.

During the announcement, some women erupted into happy tears. There's been an ongoing push for abortion access since 2011.

High-profile Island women have lobbied the government directly; more recently, doctored images of a guerrilla Anne of Green Gables calling for abortion access popped up around Charlottetown.

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

"I'm in the final stretch of pregnancy with my first daughter," said Story Sheidow, a long-time fighter for abortion access on PEI. "It moves me to know she won't have to fight this battle. She'll never feel how so many of us have felt as Island women. Her future is a choice, and I'm thankful for that."

MacLauchlan's decision actually mirrors exactly what the pro-choice movement asked for when it met his predecessor, Robert Ghiz, in 2011. Then, the now-defunct group PEI Reproductive Rights Organization asked for abortions to be provided in a hospital setting so that anti-choice protesters couldn't picket or harass people seeking abortions.

But Ghiz's government wouldn't budge.

In fact, it frequently traipsed then-health minister Doug Currie in front of cameras to defend the "status quo" of the province's abortion policy.

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But when MacLauchlan was elected in 2015, he took the "first step" of removing the need to get a referral for an abortion.

Earlier this year, a group of pro-choice advocates started the process of suing the province for blocking access to abortion care.

In the news conference on Thursday, MacLauchlan said the government was unlikely to win a lawsuit if it went forward, and that was a factor in the government's decision.

"We recognize that Islanders, including Members of the Legislative Assembly, have strong personal beliefs on this issue; we also recognize our obligation to provide timely and professional health care, without discrimination," he said in a news release.

MacLauchlan said abortions might be provided by the end of the year.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau applauded the decision in a statement today.

"A woman's right to choose in a fundamental right in our country," Trudeau said.

"I welcome the leadership demonstrated by Premier MacLauchlan who today announced that the PEI provincial government will move forward with access to reproductive services on the Island."

Trudeau had been criticized during campaign stops on Prince Edward Island for not speaking out against the anti-abortion stance held by the provincial wing of his own party.

Follow Kate McKenna on Twitter: @katemckenna8