P.E.I. women seeking abortion face an uphill battle, but changes are coming
The Canada Health Act states that everyone in Canada should have access to necessary health services, including abortion. Abortion is a safe and legal service. But until recently, women in Prince Edward Island did not have access to those services. At least, not on the Island.
According to this CBC article, P.E.I. is the only province in Canada where surgical abortions are not performed, but some doctors will provide a prescription for a medical abortion. However, the government announced Tuesday that “it made an agreement with the Moncton Hospital to provide timely access to abortion services for Island women.” Jane Ledwell, P.E.I. Advisory Council on the Status of Women executive director, thinks this is a step in the right direction. “Government still feels uncomfortable with abortion. The prevailing attitude among politicians in P.E.I. is either that's it's OK for abortion to be hard to access because it's something people should have to think about and get over hurdles to access, or even that abortion should be hard to access. It's a punitive moral attitude,” she said.
Abortion services have been a hot political subject on the Island for three years, which the government has been criticized for. As an answer, Becka Viau created the blog The Sovereign Uterus, where women have anonymously shared their stories and frustrations with the P.E.I. government. Becka tells me, “A few weeks ago, a woman from P.E.I. stood up for herself in the media and told her story about being denied service at an Island hospital after administering a medical abortion," which was also prescribed by an Island doctor.
After Courtney went public, the social media conversations were incredible. “It was from there that many other women found out they had gone through similar experiences, just through conversations on Facebook." Becka decided that rather than these stories be lost, she wanted to document them on her blog. “To keep a record, to create a critical mass of women's voices. Maybe together we could be heard?” she said. Since the launch just over a week ago, the blog has received over 40 entries and over 70,000 page views.
Chelsey Buchanan, a Prince Edward Island woman now living in Halifax, came across The Sovereign Uterus and became inspired to open her home to those in need. Jane Ledwell says, "It means a lot to people to know there are nonjudgmental supports like her available. However, it is unacceptable that we have a system that relies on the goodwill of people and passing the hat at meetings for basic medical care that could easily be available tomorrow in P.E.I. hospitals." Chelsey is not the only one offering these types of services — she is just the only one who has gone on record and spoken out publicly about it. "There are already networks of people working together to ensure as many women as possible are assisted accessing comprehensive, safe and timely abortion care. It is brave of Chelsey to speak out publicly. I admire her for doing so," she said.
While the P.E.I. government is working to make changes, Becka says, “Access to Moncton is not always an option at the moment. We are hoping the government will move quickly on their announcement that was made this past Tuesday.” Until then, women in P.E.I. are still working in loud and quiet ways to ensure all women will have choices soon that are not available today.