Bioethics Blogs

Abortions: Coming soon to PEI

Nasha Nijhawan and Kelly McMillan explain why the PEI government has finally elected to provide abortion services on the Island.

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On March 31, 2016, the Premier of Prince Edward Island, Wade MacLauchlan, announced that by the end of 2016, PEI will develop a plan to open a reproductive health clinic offering medical and surgical abortions in an Island hospital. This announcement represents a sudden reversal in the Province’s 28-year-old policy not to provide abortions on the Island.

Following last week’s reversal, the question on every reporter’s lips was: “why now?” As Premier MacLauchlan candidly admitted, his decision was a concession to threatened Charter litigation served on January 5, 2016 by a group of veteran advocates called Abortion Access Now PEI Inc.

As social movements rarely score their victories by merely threatening Charter litigation, the question of why this worked in this case bears comment. In our view (as counsel for Abortion Access Now PEI), this success can be attributed partly to the recent surge in creative activism by abortion access advocates on PEI, and partly to the way the litigation fundamentally reframed the discussion about what the Province was doing and why.

Image by “Shirley Karats” (artist pseudonym)

Before this litigation, the question of what exactly was PEI’s abortion policy had stumped activists and health providers alike. In 2011, the CEO of Health PEI stated publicly that there were no regulatory barriers to abortion, and that any doctor who wished to perform the procedure on PEI could do so freely. However, when a working group at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown tried to develop a plan in 2014 to bring in a Nova Scotia physician to provide abortion services, the Province instructed Health PEI to stop them because it was “against government policy,” much to the CEO’s apparent surprise.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.