Abortion rally

For years, advocates have been lobbying for access to abortion services on P.E.I., where the province won't pay for them on the Island. (CBC)

Abortion Access Now PEI says it is taking the province to court to force it to provide full and unrestricted access to publicly funded abortion services on the Island.

The group says it has filed a notice of application in the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island against the P.E.I. government. Under the Crown Proceedings Act, any group filing a lawsuit against the province is required to provide notice of 90 days.

"For over two decades, we have advocated for on-Island, safe, legal access to abortion," Ann Wheatley, co-chair of Abortion Access Now PEI, said in a news release.

"Unfortunately, it is clear to us that nothing short of a court order will prompt the government to comply with its obligations to P.E.I. residents under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

P.E.I. is the only province that does not provide surgical abortions, although it will pay for the service, in Moncton, N.B. and Halifax. Surgical abortions have not been performed legally on the Island since 1981.

P.E.I sued over abortion access4:25

"It's not possible for everyone who requires an abortion to make the trip to Moncton or Halifax, to leave their families or in the case of young people to have an excuse to travel out of the province or the means to do so," Nasha Nijhawan, one of the lawyers representing the group, told CBC News on Tuesday from her office in Halifax.  

"So, the hardships that are created by this policy are effectively a barrier to complete access for many women."

Abortion access became an issue again in 2011 when the P.E.I. Reproductive Rights Organization lobbied for better access.

Abortion Access Now PEI launched in December to lobby the province for access to abortion services on the Island. 

Province responds

P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan is also attorney general, and that office released a statement Tuesday in response to the filing. 

P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan

P.E.I. Attorney General Wade MacLauchlan's spokesman says the government will be reviewing the filing by Abortion Access Now PEI carefully with lawyers before responding. (CBC)

"Last year, government announced the removal of a number of barriers to improve access to abortion services for Island women," the statement says. 

It says the province will be reviewing the filing carefully, in consultation with legal counsel, and "will respond accordingly in due course."

Previous court case

It's not the first time the P.E.I. government has faced a court challenge over its abortion services policy.

In the 1990s, Dr. Henry Morgentaler went to court over its refusal to pay for services in his abortion clinics. The province won that case on appeal to the Supreme Court of P.E.I. in 1996, and continued to pay for the service if provided in hospital.

In June last year, the province made changes to make access to abortion easier. The new system allows women to call directly to make an appointment at Moncton Hospital in New Brunswick, without a referral from a doctor or Health PEI. Since mid-December, 49 P.E.I. women had accessed abortion services in Moncton. The province said it also has a reciprocal billing arrangement with the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax.

National group supports lawsuit

Abortion Access Now PEI is receiving support from the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), a national equality rights organization.

Colleen MacQuarrie, PEI abortion rights network

P.E.I's abortion services policy has led to desperation for some women, says Colleen MacQuarrie of Abortion Access Now PEI. (CBC)

In a separate news release, LEAF accused the P.E.I. government of "flouting the spirit" of the Supreme Court of Canada's 1988 Morgentaler decision.

It called the province's abortion policy a state-imposed barrier to the right and ability of women to exercise control over matters fundamental to their physical, emotional and psychological well-being.

"If you limit options, people get desperate and desperate people do things they might not ordinarily do," Colleen MacQuarrie, co-chair of Abortion Access Now PEI, said in the release.