Abortion clinic plan shut down mid-process, says federation

A proposal for a P.E.I.-based abortion service received initial approval before being shut down, says the National Abortion Federation.

Plan received recommendation from Medical Advisory Council, claims National Abortion Federation

About 400 people demonstrated against abortion in front of Province House Sunday. (CBC)

A proposal for a P.E.I.-based abortion service received initial approval before being shut down, says the National Abortion Federation.

Proponents of a plan to develop a twice-monthly outpatient abortion clinic operating from a P.E.I. hospital say the plan received an initial recommendation from the province's Medical Advisory Council. But say the plan was quashed before it could take the next step toward.

Premier Robert Ghiz told CBC News Monday his government is happy with the current system, where the province pays for abortions performed on the mainland.

"I think it's interesting the administration and the premier say they're happy with the status quo," said Dawn Fowler, Canadian director of the National Abortion Federation.

"This is not a complicated procedure. We've got doctors willing to provide the care. We've got a cost-neutral plan that can be easily implemented. I would put the question back to [Health PEI CEO] Dr. Richard Wedge and the premier and say, why not? Why not provide locally?"

Fowler has not provided any documentation to back up her claim that the proposal received the council's recommendation. CBC News has asked Health PEI to clarify on several occasions but received no response.

There was a demonstration in support of abortion services on the Island in October 2013. Another was held earlier this month. (CBC)

Fowler said she's disappointed the proposal was sidetracked before it could move up further through the approvals process. The National Abortion Federation has scheduled a press conference for Wednesday in Charlottetown.

P.E.I. is currently the only province where legal abortions aren't performed. The province pays for women to have abortions performed at the QE2 hospital in Halifax, provided they have a referral from an Island doctor. Of the roughly 140  island women who have abortions each year, between 50 and 100 opt to pay themselves instead, and have their abortions performed at the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton. That clinic has announced it will close this summer.

Further hurdles for proposal

Approval from the provincial Medical Advisory Council would have been the first step toward possible implementation of the proposal to have abortions performed in P.E.I.

Health PEI CEO Richard Wedge has previously said there would be no basis for not approving a qualified doctor's request to provide abortion services in the province.

Following that, it would have to be presented to the executive leadership at Health PEI, after which Health PEI CEO Richard Wedge would present it to government for final approval.

In an email to CBC News, Wedge stressed it is not unusual for Islanders to have to travel to the mainland for medical services.

"Health PEI receives numerous proposals for a variety of services each year. There are currently a number of services covered under Medicare that Islanders can travel to neighbouring provinces to receive, including abortion," he wrote.

"Government has indicated that there is no desire to broaden the current abortion services; therefore, it would not make sense for Health PEI to put resources into a proposal that is not in line with government policy."

CBC News asked a spokesperson with the P.E.I. Department of Health for a copy of government's policy on abortion, but received no response.

Health PEI in 2011: 'What basis would you have to deny it?'

In an interview in November 2011 Dr. Wedge, then executive director of medical affairs for Health PEI, told CBC News there was no policy in place to prevent abortions from being performed on P.E.I.

He said if a qualified doctor with the necessary skills asked for operating room privileges to perform abortions in a P.E.I. hospital, those privileges would be granted.

"If a physician applied for privileges to do abortions on P.E.I., and they had the skills, the training necessary to do it, then they could get privileges for that on P.E.I.," said Wedge.

"The Supreme Court has said that access to legal abortions is a medically necessary service. So you can't legislate against it, because the Supreme Court would just strike it down … If someone has the skills to provide a medically-necessary service, then what basis would you have to deny it?"

At the time, Dr. Wedge was talking about the possibility of a doctor on P.E.I. applying for privileges, most likely one of the province's eight obstetricians. The new proposal would have involved three doctors travelling from out of province.

Holly Pierlot, president of the P.E.I. Right to Life Association, said her group is pleased P.E.I. has stopped the proposal for an on-Island abortion clinic, but would also like to see the province stop funding most of the abortions it is now paying for.