NEWS

Leaders of P.E.I. political parties divided on access to abortion in province

04/30/2015 07:24 EDT | Updated 08/09/2015 02:59 EDT
CHARLOTTETOWN - The two main parties in Prince Edward Island's politics won't make abortions available to women in their home province, a stark contrast to the position taken by the two party leaders who are trying for a breakthrough in its election campaign.

The issue sparked heated exchanges Thursday night in the final televised leaders debate before Monday's election, with the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives refusing to make the most fundamental change to the government's policy.

P.E.I. does not offer abortions in the province. The government does cover the cost of an abortion outside the province if the procedure is done in a hospital with a doctor’s referral, but travel costs are not covered.

Progressive Conservative Leader Rob Lantz said he isn't wavering from his party's position.

"We respect the laws of Canada, and we respect the principles of the Health Act and we will abide by those," Lantz told the debate audience at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown.

"Changes to the current policies are not considered in our agenda right now," he said, drawing a mixture of applause and boos.

Premier Wade MacLauchlan said the Liberals would not make the procedure available in the province, but it would address the need for timely information, the requirement for a doctor's referral and the out-of-pocket costs for women who travel to another province to get abortions.

"It's not status quo, it's to address the issues of access," MacLauchlan said.

But the New Democrat's Mike Redmond took the premier to task, saying the Liberals are supporting the status quo.

He said the recent harsh winter often presented a barrier to women who had appointments for abortions in Nova Scotia or elsewhere.

"The bridge wasn't open, the roads weren't open. We need politicians with the courage to stand up for the women of this province," Redmond said.

The loudest applause from the audience during the abortion portion of the debate went to Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker when he simply answered "Yes" when asked if he would commit to making abortions available on P.E.I.

"We cannot carry on putting bureaucratic and economic barriers in front of women on Prince Edward Island," he said.

According to Health PEI, about 70 women from the province travel to Halifax each year to have an abortion.

The rest of the 90-minute debate sponsored by the Charlottetown Guardian and broadcast on Eastlink TV covered a range of issues from provincial finances to the environment.

The Liberals and Tories historically dominate elections in the province, although both party leaders are somewhat unknown quantities in political terms after taking on the jobs in February.

This is also the first provincial election campaign for Bevan-Baker and Redmond. It's been almost 20 years since the NDP last elected a member to the legislature.

When the legislature was dissolved, the Liberals held 20 seats, the Tories had three seats, there was one Independent and three seats were vacant.

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