Lack of abortion access fuels risks to women, says report

A lack of local abortion access is detrimental to women's health, says a University of Prince Edward Island researcher.

Study indicates P.E.I.'s restrictions lead to illegal and self-induced abortions

A lack of local abortion access is detrimental to women's health, says a University of Prince Edward Island researcher.   

This after reports of illegal or failed-attempt abortions on P.E.I. — the only province where women have to leave for the procedure.       

UPEI psychology professor, Colleen MacQuarrie, has been researching how women have been affected by the province's abortion policies since 2011.             

MacQuarrie and her team interviewed 45 women of varying ages who have had an abortion, or who couldn't get one.

"It was difficult to hear those stories and imagine that P.E.I. hadn't changed much since those stories had been told. Some of those stories were as recent as five months before coming into the project," said MacQuarrie.

The restrictions in place now have done little to restrict abortions ... rather they've increased the risks, increased the unsafe conditions.- Colleen MacQuarrie

Her team found that, according to doctor and hospital records, there were as many as two illegal or failed abortions each year since 1996.           

The report also shows there were between six to 80 "unspecified abortions" every year. That means there wasn't enough information to classify these cases.

It's likely a number of those unspecified abortions were illegal or self-induced, MacQuarrie said.

"The restrictions in place now — the status quo — have done little to restrict abortions, per se, but rather they've increased the risks, increased the unsafe conditions."

However, Health PEI CEO Richard Wedge said the term illegal or failed-attempt abortion is a code used by the health system when the abortion is due to trauma.

'No back-alley abortion clinics'

"That kind of a code is very kind of archaic language that's built into an old coding system that was used on P.E.I. at one time. But basically people would use that for any kind of a traumatic injury that occurs to a woman that was pregnant. So, they may have been in a car accident and they deliver a stillborn, or they spontaneously abort their pregnancy," he said.

"There are no illegal abortions that occur on P.E.I. There are no back-alley abortion clinics on P.E.I., obviously, so we don't have illegal abortions." Wedge agreed however the "illegal" code or the "unspecified" code could also mean the abortion was self-induced or was induced by another person.

MacQuarrie said she's bringing her findings to the province so the Department of Health and Wellness can create local access to safe surgical abortions.

The report also asks government to educate the public about abortions and for medical professionals to show more support and create better access.

"Research reports are done all the time and we take in consideration when we're planning services and discussion around the department around how to manage the P.E.I. health care system," said Wedge.             

Meanwhile, the health department said it reviewed the report, but has no plans to change the current policy.

"Due to Prince Edward Island's size and population, it is not possible to provide every medical procedure within our province," said the province in a statement to CBC News.

"That is why P.E.I. has excellent partnerships with other provinces. P.E.I. Medicare covers abortion services on a regional basis, just as it does with several other medical services for Islanders."