CHARLOTTETOWN — Prince Edward Island has agreed to provide abortions within the province by the end of the year, ending decades of forcing women to travel to neighbouring provinces to access the procedure.
The Island's Liberal government announced Thursday it will not fight a legal challenge launched in the province's Supreme Court by the group Abortion Access Now, which says the province has an obligation to provide safe abortions under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"We have been advised the probabilities are very low that the province could successfully defend policies that provide a legal, provincially funded medical procedure only if obtained outside of the province," Premier Wade MacLauchlan told a news conference in Charlottetown.
Prince Edward Island Premier Wade MacLauchlan answers a question at a meeting of the Atlantic premiers and members of the federal cabinet representing Atlantic Canada in Fredericton, Wednesday, Feb.10, 2016. (Photo: James West/CP)
"We are advised that the current policy would likely be found to be contrary to equality rights guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as Charter guarantees of security of the person."
Prince Edward Island is the last province in the country to allow abortion access within the province, 28 years after the 1988 Morgentaler decision of the Supreme Court struck down laws restricting abortion in Canada.
Women from the Island must currently travel to New Brunswick or Nova Scotia to get abortions paid for by the Island government.
'Good day for equality rights'
The group that launched the recent lawsuit said Thursday's announcement was the culmination of years of relentless lobbying for change.
"Today is a good day for equality rights in P.E.I.," Abortion Access Now said in a statement.
"This outcome would not have been possible without the tremendous efforts of the activists in P.E.I. who have tirelessly advocated for abortion access in the province over the last three decades."
Health Minister Robert Henderson said Health PEI has been told to develop plans for a women's reproductive health centre somewhere on the Island. He says it should be in place by the end of the year.
He said the new centre, to be located within a hospital, will offer a range of services including counselling.
The P.E.I. Right to Life Association panned the change in policy and said it will continue to provide public education in opposition of abortion.
"We are not in support of the government's decision to allow the dismemberment and decapitation of the pre-born human child on the Island," said executive director Nicole Dupuis, adding she is pleased that the new centre will provide counselling services before and after abortions.
MacLauchlan said his government respects that Prince Edward Islanders hold a range of deep convictions about abortion.
"This range of views and these strong convictions are reflected within our cabinet and caucus and have been fully aired in our deliberations," he said.
Henderson says the P.E.I. government will end its agreement to pay for abortion services in Halifax, but will keep the agreement with New Brunswick to give women on the Island an option.
"Existing regulatory barriers to on-Island abortion access will be removed," he said.
Paula Biggar, the minister responsible for the status of women, said she hopes the public will see this was the right decision to make.
"It is my hope that this decision will not be regarded as much as a victory or defeat, but as an effort to ensure that we have good public policy that can stand the test of time," she said.
In a statement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau applauded the announcement.
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
"The Government of Canada reaffirms its belief that a woman should have access to reproductive health services, no matter where they live in our country," Trudeau said.
It was also welcomed by Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation.
"Sometimes you do need to bring legal challenges in order to effectuate change. It's unfortunate that it took the threat of a legal challenge to have the government do the right thing," Saporta said in an interview from her office in Washington, D.C.
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