PEI

Abortion numbers up slightly in year since available on P.E.I.

Access to abortions on P.E.I. has not led to a large increase in Island women having the procedure — about 195 women accessed a hospital abortion in 2017, compared to 186 in 2016.

195 P.E.I. women had abortions in 2017, up from 186 year before

'Women are feeling comfortable enough to come and see us,' says Rachelle Pike, manager of P.E.I.'s Women's Wellness Program. (Shutterstock)

Access to abortions on P.E.I. has not led to a large increase in Island women having the procedure — about 195 women accessed a hospital abortion in 2017, compared to 186 in 2016. 

Abortions became available on P.E.I. one year ago today, on Jan. 31, 2017, with the opening of the Women's Wellness Centre in Summerside's Prince County Hospital. Prior to that, the procedure hadn't been offered on the Island since 1982.

"We have a little bit of an increase, and in actual fact we're happy to see that, because it's around access and when a woman has access to a service or anybody has access to a service, we know that it would probably go up a little bit," said Rachelle Pike, manager of the Women's Wellness Program and Sexual Health Services with Health PEI.

"So knowing we have the numbers going up, to us we look at as a positive, that women are feeling comfortable enough to come and see us."

'The choice is there, which basically is what it's all about,' says Pike. (Sally Pitt/CBC News)

'The choice is there'

Included in the 195 procedures are 143 surgical abortions and 20 medical abortions using the abortion pill, Mifegymiso. Another 32 surgical abortions were performed off-Island in 2017, including some in January and others for women from P.E.I. who were working or studying in other provinces.

For the women's community on P.E.I. we finally feel that we've caught up to the rest of the country.— Jillian Kilfoil

Before the centre opened, P.E.I. was the only province in the country that didn't offer abortions. Island women had to travel to another province for the procedure — most went to the Moncton Hospital in recent years, where P.E.I. allowed women to self-refer since July 2015 through a toll-free number.

But in the past year, women have been able to access abortions on the Island if their pregnancy is within 12 weeks and six days gestation.

Pike has seen women of a range of ages and backgrounds from across P.E.I.

"The choice is there, which basically is what it's all about — choice for women," said Pike.

"I think for the women's community on P.E.I. we finally feel that we've caught up to the rest of the country," said Jillian Kilfoil, the executive director of Women's Network PEI.

Hospital Abortions Performed for PEI Women
Year Number
2017 195
2016 186
2015 115
2014* 88
2013 94
2012 84

*The Morgentaler Abortion Clinic in Fredericton, N.B., closed in July 2014. Prior to this, some P.E.I. women travelled there for their abortions. Abortions at private clinics are not covered by the provincial government and are not reflected in these numbers. 

Abortion pill now available

The province began offering the abortion pill in early November, and about 20 women had medical abortions in Summerside in the last two months of the year.

P.E.I. began offering the abortion pill in early November for free at the Women's Wellness Centre in Summerside. (CBC)

Kilfoil would like to see better access to the drug across the province, pointing out transportation to Summerside — about a one-hour drive — can be a barrier for some women. 

There are plans to make it available for free at a satellite centre in Charlottetown by the spring, said Pike.

Mifegymiso is free if it's accessed through the Wellness Program, but the $300 cost of the drug isn't covered if a woman gets the pill through her family doctor.

When a women arranges for the abortion pill through the centre she's given blood work, an ultrasound to confirm the length of a pregnancy, and is able to follow up in case of complications.

"We want to make sure they're followed properly," said Pike.

Making 'an informed choice'

When a woman calls the Wellness Program to arrange an abortion, she's booked for an intake appointment where she sits down with a social worker or nurse to go through all the options available, said Pike, including medical and surgical abortions, adoption and keeping the child, so she can make an "informed choice."

'We're on the right track,' says Jillian Kilfoil with Women's Network P.E.I. (Julien LeCacheur/CBC News)

Medical abortions are available up to nine weeks gestation and surgical abortion up to 12 weeks and six days. After that, Moncton handles abortions up to 14 weeks and Halifax up to 16 weeks.

One woman who contacted CBC News said she believes she had one of the first medical abortions in Summerside late last year. CBC News is not publishing the woman's name.

"They made an unfortunate situation a lot less stressful and made me feel comfortable and cared for," she said.   

She got an appointment within five days of calling and that staff were "so kind and patient with me," she said.

She also appreciated that they helped her with more than just her abortion — talking with her about birth control options, STI checks and other sexual health concerns.

The woman had travelled to Halifax for an abortion four years ago and said the proximity and easy communication with the Summerside centre made her much more comfortable.

"It definitely made the whole process a lot easier on me knowing I could call the clinic at any time and go in and see them if I had problems or questions," she said. 

'Keep that momentum going'

The P.E.I. government has made great strides in 2017, said Kilfoil, adding she has some advice for officials.

P.E.I.'s Right to Life Association says it will continue its fight to convince the provincial government to reverse its decision on access to abortion. (CBC)

"Keep that momentum going. Keep listening to Island women. They know best what they need in terms of health services."

Some women still may find it difficult to talk about their decision to have an abortion to their family and friends, she said, and urged them to "reach out to people around you. Don't be alone with what you're experiencing." 

Women considering abortions face an "incredibly, incredibly difficult decision," said Kilfoil.

Removing stigma

Since it opened a year ago, the Women's Wellness Program has expanded to offer range of services including counselling for women who've lost a baby or are experiencing depression after birth.

It also offers IUD insertions, contraception counselling, STI testing for all genders, menopause care, and pre- and post- natal care.

And most of those services — with the exception of abortions — are now offered at monthly clinics in Souris, Alberton, O'Leary and Charlottetown.

Women's Wellness Program Services in 2017
Service Type Total Visits
Pregnancy options counselling 193
IUD visits (Insertion/Removal/Rechecks/Consults) 384
PAP tests 108
Contraceptive counselling 76
STI testing 149
Prenatal care 155
Perinatal/postpartum mental health 195
Crisis counselling 5

"I guess the benefits of having all that into a centre, it certainly takes the stigma — and that's not a word I want to use, but it's certainly a reality with abortions, that there is a stigma. And it's just a great chance for women to come and have whatever service that they need in one centre," said Pike.

Protests will continue

In the coming year, Pike hopes to see fertility services expanded on P.E.I. Right now, some preliminary work is done in the province ahead of appointments with specialists off-Island. 

'I would like the government to stand up and protect life. That is their duty," says Patricia Wiedemer of P.E.I. Right to Life. (Julien LeCacheur/CBC News)

Access to abortions on P.E.I. hasn't been welcomed by everyone. There were protests in P.E.I. prior to the Wellness Centre opening and have been several there since abortions started being performed last January. 

The P.E.I. Right to Life Association will continue its fight to convince the provincial government to reverse its decision on access, it says.

"I would like the government to stand up and protect life. That is their duty," said Patricia Wiedemer, the association's executive director. 

"Our main mission is to educate people that a life of the child begins with conception."

The association plans to continue monthly protests outside the Women's Wellness Centre in Summerside. 

About the Author

Sally Pitt

Producer

Sally Pitt is a producer with CBC and has worked as a journalist for more than 30 years in online, TV, radio and print. She specializes in justice issues and also works with the CBC Atlantic Investigative Unit. You can reach her at sally.pitt@cbc.ca.

now