Reproductive rights – specifically access to abortion – are finally being demanded by the women of Prince Edward Island. Following 25 years of silence, and two weeks of media circus, the first rally for reproductive rights is scheduled for this Saturday, November 19th, 2011.
Kandace Hagen co-founded the PEI Reproductive Rights Organization (PRRO) after being given incomplete and misleading information by her doctor. PRRO was the catalyst that broke the silence surrounding PEI’s lack of access: PEI is the only province in Canada in which women cannot access abortion.
The government and Health PEI does not provide information about the options that do exist for women in need of abortion, and this lack of access to basic facts is incredibly detrimental to PEI women. Women in PEI seeking access to this service must travel to other provinces. They must either pay $650-800 for the service in a private clinic in Fredericton, New Brunswick, or find a doctor willing to provide a referral for the service at a hospital in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In both cases, women must cover their own travel and accommodation expenses, and have someone accompany them. For young women and women without access to funds, that is simply not possible, and stories of isolated and desperation abound.
Dr. Colleen McQuarrie, a psychology professor at the University of Prince Edward Island, is conducting an action-research project examining what the lack of access has meant for island women. Although her research is still in its preliminary stages, the harm that lack of access causes for island women is already clear. The story of a 14 year old girl who engaged in two weeks of self harm in a desperate attempt to self-induce is one example featured in many media stories.
The intention of the rally on November 19th, 2011 is to provide information, share some coffee and tea, and meet with like minded folks to break this silence. Anti-Choice groups, however, have declared their intentions to attend in protest – it has been the fear of backlash from extremely anti-choice people that has silenced the movement thus far. The PRRO organizers refuse to be intimidated and with the help of their allies, they plan to keep the rally peaceful and accessible, and are encouraging their supporters to bring baked goods to share.
PRRO maintains that the issue of abortion access is not up for debate: “This is something the rest of Canada is privileged to,” Kandace told a local student newspaper. “It’s already legal. Our island is simply preventing us from accessing that right.” [Ed. note: although access to abortion is available in all other provinces and territories, it is still inaccessible to many Canadian women for a variety of reasons, including geographical ones.]
The PRRO Rally will be held at Province House in Charlottetown on Saturday, November 19th, 2011, from 12-3pm.
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Josie Baker is a feminist community organizer in Charlottetown, PEI. She works on issues of food sovereignty, labour justice, anti-racism, reproductive rights, and queer visibility in the smallest province in Canada. Her educational background is in community development, and religious studies/women’s studies. In her spare time she is an avid vegetable gardener.