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PEI abortion advocacy group takes province to court

If you’re a woman living on Prince Edward Island and you wind up with an unplanned pregnancy you hope to terminate, you just may be out of luck. Right now, PEI is the only Canadian province that fails to provide safe access to abortion. PEI women who need abortions wind up traveling out of province and paying out of pocket — something not all women can afford to do.

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The PEI lobby group Abortion Access Now hopes to change this and is taking the province to court, demanding they provide fully funded and unrestricted access to abortion.

“For over two decades, we have advocated for on-Island, safe, legal access to abortion. Unfortunately, it is clear to us that nothing short of a court order will prompt the government to comply with its obligations to P.E.I. residents under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” said Ann Wheatley co-chair of Abortion Access Now PEI in a statement.

The group is calling out the government for failing to protect women’s reproductive rights: “It is time for our equality rights to matter. PEI’s discriminatory and unlawful abortion policy must end,” said Dr. Colleen MacQuarrie, co-chair of Abortion Access Now PEI.

In a recent study led by MacQuarrie, “The Trials and Trails of Accessing Abortion on PEI: Reporting on the Impacts of PEI’s Abortion Policies on Women,” researchers found that when faced with a lack of access to abortion, combined with the stigma that exists on the island for women who’ve had abortions, some turn to desperate measures, secretly attempting to induce their own abortions. One participant in the study spoke with harrowing casualness about the unsafe ways in which she tried to terminate her pregnancy:

“I think everybody kind of knows the throw yourself down the stairs thing. I think that’s — however that got into our minds, or into our culture, or whatever, that’s kind of been there. Um, so I tried that,” she recalled. When that didn’t work she turned to several more unsafe activities, including drinking “a substantial amount of vinegar” and slamming her body into a table with enough force to cause the table to break.

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“If you limit options people get desperate, and desperate people do things they might not ordinarily do,” MacQuarrie told PEI newspaper The Guardian. “The level of harm is not distributed equally among women. The most vulnerable and the most marginalized women have suffered the most from lack of local access.”

Abortion Access Now PEI has got backing from the national organization Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), who are soliciting donations to help support the group’s legal challenge to the government.

Under section 15 of the Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, women are guaranteed equal access to health care. In a statement, LEAF points out that failing to provide women with safe, accessible abortions “… perpetuates the historic disadvantage and stigma faced by women in relation to their reproductive health and decision-making.”

They point out that PEI’s abortion policies hamper women’s rights, as they don’t allow women to “…exercise control over matters fundamental to their physical, emotional and psychological integrity.”

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