06/02/2015 11:12 EDT | Updated 06/02/2016 05:59 EDT

New Brunswick Hospital To Offer Abortions For P.E.I. Women

"It's big news for the Island, but a small first step."

CHARLOTTETOWN - Women in Prince Edward Island will be able to access abortion services in New Brunswick starting July 1, but the head of a women's advisory group says there ultimately needs to be abortion access on the Island.

"It's big news for the Island, but a small first step," said Jane Ledwell, executive director of the Prince Edward Island Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

Premier Wade MacLauchlan announced Tuesday that the Island government has reached an arrangement with the Moncton Hospital to provide the procedure.

"The Prince Edward Island government has an obligation to be in line with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms," MacLauchlan said. "This new arrangement removes barriers similar to those identified in the 1988 Morgentaler decision and provides women access to confidential and quality care."

Abortions are not available on P.E.I., and until now women had to travel to Halifax if they wanted the procedure paid for by Medicare. The Halifax service will still be available.

But Health and Wellness Minister Doug Currie said Moncton is closer and will allow for more timely access.

"Island women will be able to navigate access by calling a toll-free number and making an appointment at the Moncton Hospital. Women will no longer have to get a physician's referral, a Health PEI referral or going through the preliminary steps that had been required for approval," Currie said.

According to the Island Department of Health and Wellness, Medicare paid for 85 abortions for P.E.I. women last year.

The former Morgentaler clinic in Fredericton, which closed last July, used to see another 60 to 70 Island women each year.

During the recent provincial election Premier Wade MacLauchlan said he would not make abortions available on the Island, but would address concerns about access to the procedure.

MacLauchlan calls the deal with the Moncton hospital "a significant accomplishment."

Ledwell said the removal of barriers such as doctor approval is a significant step for women, but the access in Moncton should only be seen as a step in the right direction.

"While it still means that Prince Edward Island is the only province in Canada that has no abortion care within the province, we think it's a step towards local access," she said.

New Brunswick Health Minister Victor Boudreau said his department will ensure the deal doesn't impede access for New Brunswick women.

"We will continue to monitor the usage to make sure it doesn't affect our own capacity to provide the services that we need to provide in the province," he said Tuesday.

The financial arrangement between the provinces has not been released.

"This is just like any other service that one province would provide for another province," Boudreau said.

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