When one 14-year-old got pregnant on Prince Edward Island, she took desperate measures to induce her own abortion at home. First, she tried throwing herself down the stairs, a trick older girls had said would work. Then she tried poisoning herself with various household substances. Finally, she rammed her abdomen into a table. When she induced her period, she breathed a sigh of relief.
Unfortunately, this grim story isn't as unusual as it ought to be. For women living on PEI who've found themselves with unwanted pregnancies, inducing pregnancy at home through dangerous, DIY methods has been chillingly prevalent. This should come as no surprise, given that for nearly 35 years the isolated island hasn't offered publicly funded abortions. Thankfully, the situation is set to improve dramatically for Island women, as the government just announced that they plan to offer abortion services — a big move in a province where many conservative Islanders are anti-choice.
“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," said Premier Wade MacLauchlan in a press statement.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau voiced his support for MacLauchlan's announcement on Twitter:
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
These services couldn't be more needed. Dr. Colleen MacQuarrie gathered stories — like that of the 14-year-old girl who put herself in grave risk to end her pregnancy — of women's experiences dealing with unwanted pregnancies on the island in her study, "Trials and Trails of Accessing Abortion in PEI." The experiences these women and girls share show their willingness to turn to desperate means when their reproductive choices are limited.
One woman tells MacQuarrie that she remembers taking "like, 12 birth control pills" because she was unaware that the morning-after pill was an option. When that didn't work, she asked her partner to physically assault her, in hopes that it would end her pregnancy: " ...we decided we would get him to punch me as hard as he possibly could in my stomach about five or six times, until that was too much for either one of us to really go through anymore," she says.
Clearly, the announcement that the government plans to provide abortion services will be life-changing for many Island women. Right now, the only safe abortion option for PEI women involves expensive travel to neighboring provinces, which many can't afford. But MacQuarrie, along with the pro-choice group Abortion Access Now, backed their government officials into a corner by taking the province to court earlier this year. By not providing publicly funded abortions, PEI was directly violating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
A new women’s reproductive health centre on #PEI will offer a number of reproductive health services, including medical & surgical abortions— Government of PEI (@InfoPEI) March 31, 2016
In response to their challenge, the provincial government just announced that Health PEI will start planning a new women’s reproductive health centre, offering everything ranging from medical and surgical abortions to additional services, which could include postpartum support services and pre- and postnatal counseling.
Moving forward with the reproductive health center is a step in the right direction to make DIY abortions a thing of the past.
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