The point is, things ARE happening up here! In Prince Edward Island, the only province where there are no abortion services whatsoever, activists are speaking up about it. The last few weeks have been a flurry of news and activity around PEI – population just over 140,000 – as the long-simmering abortion debate exploded.
Let me catch you up. Abortion is legal in Canada: or, more accurately, no abortion law exists. So while technically there is nothing illegal about seeking an abortion up to the moment of birth, because doctors tend to self-regulate, you will not find a doctor who will perform an abortion after 24 weeks gestation. Most late-term abortions are referred to the US, in fact.
Because health care is provincial jurisdiction, some provinces have taken it upon themselves to hamper access to abortion in super fun ways that are almost always illegal, but which no government is keen to touch because of the divisive nature of the issue. The clearest example of this is in New Brunswick, where someone seeking abortion cannot have the procedure covered by Medicare unless it is performed in a hospital, with referrals from two doctors. A lawsuit against the province over this has been in bureaucratic purgatory for several years.
In PEI (a neighbour to New Brunswick, and one of the eastern provinces in a cluster we call the Maritimes), the situation is more dire. There are literally no abortion services available. If you need an abortion and you live in PEI, you basically have two choices: 1. Drive/fly to Fredericton (NB) and pay out of pocket for an abortion in the private clinic there (currently ranging from $600 to $800), or 2. Drive/fly to Halifax (Nova Scotia) to have it performed at the hospital, where it will be covered by Medicare thanks to a reciprocal billing agreement between the two provinces.
There are a lot of barriers to accessing an abortion from PEI then; the main one being geographical. If you need an abortion, you have to get off the island. Which is completely unacceptable, and now the people of PEI and their allies are speaking out.
A newly formed group called PEI Reproductive Rights Organization held a rally a few weeks ago at the provincial legislature in Charlottetown, attracting about 150 supporters. As someone who spent three years organizing pro-choicers in New Brunswick, I can tell you that 150 people is a wildly impressive number considering the population, socially conservative values, and apathetic climate of that region. People care about this issue: it is urgent.