PEI’s Idea of Improving Abortion Access Is Sending Women to New Brunswick

A late-morning announcement about changes to reproductive health care on Prince Edward Island today revealed everything is just staying the same.

by Sarah Ratchford
Jun 2 2015, 8:35pm

The waiting room of a doctor's office is sometimes as far as abortion-seekers in PEI get. Photo via Flickr user Consumerist Dot Com

Two older white men sat behind a table together in Prince Edward Island this morning, preparing to make a statement about access to reproductive health care in the province.

I'm sure many Island women rolled their eyes when they heard the announcement was on its way. But some, like me, probably sucked their teeth in, tensed their neck muscles, and sat on the edge of their desk chairs, desperately hoping that abortion services would finally be made available on PEI.

But nah. The news is simply that starting July 1, instead of needing to drive about four hours to Halifax, they'll only need to drive about two hours to Moncton.

PEI is the only province in Canada in which people cannot access abortion services. If they need an abortion, they have to be able to take a day off work, find childcare for any existing children, find a second person who can accompany them, fill their car with gas, pay $45.50 to get off the Island, and drive to a hospital in another province. For women living in rural areas on the Island, this can be an extremely difficult task.

When I say people can't access abortion services on the Island, what I mean is that they can't access those services in any safe or official capacity. They can access abortions under the table if they know how to find the right activists, who will put them in touch with the right physicians, who will then maybe offer them a medically induced abortion (or what UPEI psychology professor and abortion activist Colleen MacQuarrie calls a "cocktail" of chemicals that will cause an abortion). Medical abortions can go wrong, and we saw another example of this last week when Courtney Cudmore was prescribed a medical abortion at a walk-in clinic.

She took the two pills, but when she didn't start to bleed in the timeframe they said she would, she went to the emergency room, but had to wait for five hours before she was told the doctor was simply refusing to examine her because was they were "uncomfortable" with the situation. She was still pregnant, and could go to Halifax to fix that if she felt the need.

So she left. Later, PEI Health Minister Doug Currie said in a statement to the local paper that government was satisfied with the hospital's approach.

I just spent a week on the East Coast working on a wider project about abortion access, and what happened to Cudmore was not an isolated occurrence. Women are taking pills to induce abortions, yes. They are also still using coat hangers to abort unwanted fetuses. They're using knitting needles and chopsticks, too. Some are repeatedly harming their bodies in the hopes they'll miscarry. They throw themselves down stairs. To loosen their bodies up enough to be able to do that, many of them use drugs and alcohol.

In Premier Wade MacLauchlan's mind, though, allowing women to get abortions in Moncton constitutes "enhanced reproductive care for Island women."

He says he's been hearing people needing abortions face barriers to access, and that "since abortion is now a legally available medical procedure in Canada," it's high time something was done! He says he's consulted with healthcare providers and women's health advocates, and wants to do away with "cumbersome" processes that stand in the way of access. He says it's time to "eliminate the main barriers women have identified." All women have to do now is haul ass to Moncton, present their PEI health card, and get to it. No referral needed!

OK, but why does a day-long road trip to access an invasive surgery not register as cumbersome? Also, abortion has been completely legal in Canada since 1988. Little late to the game there, eh, bud?

MacLauchlan says this will ensure women (it hasn't yet registered that people of other genders also need abortions) have access to "timely service" and more in the way of clear, timely information on the procedure—both online and in print!

Currie makes much of the fact that there will now be a toll-free number people can call to make an appointment at the Moncton hospital, and that they will no longer need a doctor's referral to do so.

"With the elimination of barriers," Currie says, women will have "better access... and most importantly, less stress."

Politicians are behaving as though this is some giant leap forward, and for the Island, it is. Don't get me wrong: I think it's good news that people needing abortions no longer need to travel all the way to Halifax for the procedure. I also think it's good news that at least some of the infantilizing restrictions have been lifted. But is it great news? No. They need to be able to access healthcare in their home province, not just "closer to home."

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