Abortion access questioned at women's forum

The leaders of Prince Edward Island's four political parties took part in a forum on women's issues Tuesday.
The four leaders of P.E.I.'s political parties answered questions about women's issues at a forum Tuesday. (CBC)
The leaders of Prince Edward Island's four political parties took part in a forum on women's issues Tuesday. 

The four men answered about a dozen questions on issues ranging from family violence, women in trades, childcare and abortion.

On the question from PEI's Abortion Rights Network if there would be any change to where Island women can get an abortion, the response was evenly split among the four leaders. 

Abortions are only available off-Island, with a doctor's referral and the women pay their own travel expenses. 

NDP Leader Mike Redmond said, if elected, he would build a women's health clinic that would provide abortions.

"NDP PEI is committed to a Women's Health Centre which includes abortion services," said Redmond. 

Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker said his party is committed to doing that as well. 

No change to status quo

Liberal Leader Wade MacLauchlan said there would not be a change in the current practice to not provide abortions in P.E.I. 

"As a small jurisdiction there are a number of medical procedures, including abortion that are provided and funded on an out-of-province basis, and we wouldn't see that part changing. But we'd be actively interested to address the issues that are of concern," said MacLauchlan. 

Progressive Conservative Leader Rob Lantz said it was not an issue on his agenda. 

"It's also an extremely complex and polarizing issue and at this time, it's not on my agenda, it's not part of the PC platform. It's our understanding that we're meeting the requirements to provide the service," said Lantz. 

Representatives of the PEI Abortion Rights Network and Women's Network PEI said they were disappointed with the response from some of the leaders. 

"Everyone did talk about mitigating the negative effects of the poor abortion access on the Island, so that is a good thing. But obviously, local access is what matters to especially marginalized women on the Island," said Emily Rutledge of the PEI Abortion Rights Network. 

Michele MacCallum of the Women's Network PEI said she works in an organization where she receives calls from women who are trying to access abortions in P.E.I. 

"You would not believe the heartache, the red tape, the protocols, the judgment, the lack of confidentiality, the lack of information, the lack of resources for women to access a service that is covered," said MacCallum. 

The leaders also spoke about the lack of female candidates to run for election. 

Lantz said he was disappointed the Progressive Conservatives didn't attract at least 50 per cent women candidates and would like half his cabinet, senior bureaucrats and appointees to be female.

For his part, MacLauchlan said more women would be interested in politics if the parties would maintain a 'proper tenor.'

But  NDP Leader Mike Redmond blamed patronage and what he called the incestuous, backward nature of P.E.I. politics as the reason more women were not involved in politics. 

Of the 93 people running in the provincial election, only 24 are women so far. Nominations close Friday. 

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