Women turning to desperate measures due to lack of abortion services

Teresa Wright
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A 14-year-old P.E.I. girl who discovered she was pregnant turned to desperate measures of self-harm to induce an abortion due to lack of access on P.E.I.

For two weeks, she ingested chemicals. She tried repeatedly ramming her stomach into a table. She tried getting drunk and throwing herself down the stairs.

Her body was bruised and damaged, but she still didn’t want anyone to know what was going on.

This is just one experience of many that Dr. Colleen MacQuarrie at UPEI has gathered in a research project on the health impacts of abortion policies on P.E.I.

Despite the project being still in early stages, MacQuarrie says she is shocked at the similarities in stories from women who have or tried to have abortions.

Many have been turning to self-harm.

“If you limit options then you create desperation, and then desperate people do things they wouldn’t normally do. It’s deeply disturbing,” she said.

Prince Edward Island is the only province in Canada that does not provide any abortion services. The procedure is not done in Island hospitals and there are no private clinics that offer the service in the province.

This lack of access has left P.E.I. women with limited options with an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy.

The provincial government does cover the cost of the procedure off-Island, but only when done in a hospital and if a woman has been referred by two doctors – one from P.E.I. and one from the doctor performing the procedure.

Women must travel to the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Halifax or the private Morgentaler clinic in Fredericton, but the province will not fund any abortions performed at private clinics.

Fees at private clinics, where a doctor’s referral is not needed, are roughly around $800, not including travel. The province does not cover any travel expenses.

Getting this kind of information on what services are available and what other steps are necessary for this procedure is not easy.

Those who call the health department are often told to contact women’s groups for information. The Guardian attempted to get information from the Department of Health and Wellness for this article and received nothing. And those who go to their doctors may not fare much better.

“There are doctors who just don’t give referrals. There are doctors who say that’s not what they do… one woman, her doctor refused to even see her,” MacQuarrie said, citing examples from her research.

Kandace Hagen experienced first-hand the difficulties in getting information when looking to terminate a pregnancy a few years ago.

“I wasn’t aware what my options were and I just wanted to know how I could go about making sure that happened,” she said.

“(The doctor) told me that my only option was to go to the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton and gave me the number and that was it. He left the room.”

He did not offer a referral to the Halifax hospital where the procedure would be covered by the province. He didn’t tell Hagen she would require an ultrasound and a blood test to be conducted on P.E.I. prior to travelling to an off-Island clinic. He also didn’t tell her she needed to have all this done within a short period of time, as the regional clinics only perform abortions up to 15 weeks after conception.

“He very quickly wanted to wash his hands of it and keep going,” Hagen said.

“I definitely felt there was a stigma surrounding it.”

Hagen is now working with a group of women lobbying for changes to P.E.I.’s abortion policies. It has recently gained local and national media attention by bringing the issue to the forefront.

But this lobby group is not alone in its effort to bring forward a discussion over the Island’s lack of abortion services.

The P.E.I. Ad-Hoc Abortion Rights Committee, comprised of several women’s groups and private citizens, formed several years ago and has been holding more regular meetings for the past six months.

It recently published an information sheet with all the details needed for women looking for an abortion. It was placed in doctor’s offices around the Island.

“Women and women’s organizations have gotten together to discuss the state of access to abortion services and reproductive justice issues and share information and discuss possible strategies for working with government and working with doctors to make sure women have access to a service that’s available in other provinces in Canada,” said Jane Ledwell, a researcher with the P.E.I. Advisory Council on the Status of Women, which is part of this ad-hoc committee.

It is now working to support the work of Hagen’s Reproductive Rights Organization lobby group in trying to get changes to the current provincial policies.

P.E.I. Green Party Leader Sharon Labchuk has also come out in support of this group, calling P.E.I.’s abortion policy to be “blatant discrimination against women, especially low-income women.”

P.E.I. Health Minister Doug Currie has said he has no plans to change the current abortion policies or laws.

But MacQuarrie believes this status-quo stance will have to change.

“There’s a saturation beginning about the real harms that are happening to women because of these policies,” she said.

“There’s enough there for me to confidently say that we have a real health issue here. It’s probably more than we ever thought when we started.”

Organizations: Morgentaler, Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Halifax, Department of Health and Wellness Halifax hospital Hoc Abortion Rights Committee P.E.I. Advisory Council on the Status of Women Reproductive Rights Organization P.E.I. Green Party

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, Canada, Fredericton

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Recent comments

  • Anonymous
    November 14, 2011 - 15:57

    It is wrong to acuse anyone for getting pregnant because "they didn't use protection". Many women become pregnant even through the use of contraceptions. Many people are unable to use some contraceptions due to health or moral reasons. Don't blame people blindly. We all have our story and sometime accidents do happen. Do not condemn them. Put yourself in her shoes. Many woman do not have the financial means to have a baby. Some like me, are simply not ready to carry a child. I used protection and I found myself pregnant for the very first time in my life I became depressed. Being from PEI, abortion services were not readily available to me, but I was lucky enough to get a referral. It was a hard long process to get everything in order and very few people were ready to help me through it. I became unhealthy during the weeks leading up to my abortion. I barely ate, I was depressed, I had no need to do anything in life but to finish this process. I'm not saying abortion was my first choice, but it was my only choice. Desperation does nasty things to people and the only that kept me from thinking of destroying my life was the knowledge that it was going to be over soon. If there's anything I've learned from this experience is that everyone has a different situation and none of these decisions are easy for anyone to make so you, as a stranger on the other side of a computer screen or even as someone who doesn't know why a woman has made this decision has no right to blame them for anything. 

  • Anonymous
    November 14, 2011 - 15:46

    It is wrong to acuse anyone for getting pregnant because "they didn't use protection". Many women become pregnant even through the use of contraceptions. Many people are unable to use some contraceptions due to health or moral reasons. Don't blame people blindly. We all have our story and sometime accidents do happen. Do not condemn them. Put yourself in her shoes. Many woman do not have the financial means to have a baby. Some like me, are simply not ready to carry a child. I used protection and I found myself pregnant for the very first time in my life I became depressed. Being from PEI, abortion services were not readily available to me, but I was lucky enough to get a referral. It was a hard long process to get everything in order and very few people were ready to help me through it. I became unhealthy during the weeks leading up to my abortion. I barely ate, I was depressed, I had no need to do anything in life but to finish this process. I'm not saying abortion was my first choice, but it was my only choice. Desperation does nasty things to people and the only that kept me from thinking of destroying my life was the knowledge that it was going to be over soon. If there's anything I've learned from this experience is that everyone has a different situation and none of these decisions are easy for anyone to make so you, as a stranger on the other side of a computer screen or even as someone who doesn't know why a woman has made this decision has no right to blame them for anything. 

  • Seriously Folks
    November 14, 2011 - 10:39

    This is not a debate about whether abortion is legal - it is. Limiting access doesn't reduce abortion it just increases risk.

  • Emily
    November 14, 2011 - 10:33

    Abortion is a Canadian right, and now a right called for by the United Nations. Studies continue to show that abortion rates go down with comprehensive sex education and available services. History has shown that regardless of abortions legal or moral status, abortions will continue to happen more often at higher rates where acess and education do not exist. If you want abortion rates to go down, sex education and abortion access are necessary. This is not about shaming desparate women. This is about equal and just access in Canada.

  • B. W. Bipps
    November 14, 2011 - 10:25

    I am staggered at the level of hatred and vitriol being expressed here. Some facts: i) Abortion is legal in Canada. We have had that debate. It is over. To Mr (it always is) DISGUSTED, I think you need to realise that that argument was dealt with 30 years ago. ii) This debate is about access to an important legal service. No one is forcing you to have an abortion. But some women need them, and so they should have access. iii) The idea that nasty threats and naming-and-shaming are legitimate tools to deal with a chronic social issue is medieval. Stay out of other people's business. Women in this country have the right to access reproductive services and to terminate unwanted pregnancies. Those who don't like this should look not to the politicians, not to the ballot box but to the Canadian Constitution. It was the Supreme Court, remember, that struck down the laws limiting abortion in this country on the basis of the constitution.

  • Ughhhhhhh
    November 14, 2011 - 10:08

    You guys sounds awful. What gives you the right to judge someone and the decisions they make? It was likely an accident and she was scared of telling anyone about it. What also gives you the right to choose who can get an abortion and who doesn't? It's there if women need it for any age, any time and any reason. Forcing your religious beliefs on a choice like this is wrong, especially for women who don't have the same beliefs as you do. don't be so quick to judge, just because someone doesn't make the same choice as you. oh, and you can use birth control and condoms and every other type of protection, but sometimes things just happen, stop being so hard on other women

  • Chrissy
    November 13, 2011 - 16:47

    What gets me about this story is either way for a 14 year old, whether she was raped or was sexually active and doesnt want to admit it, or should have used care on how she presented herself, we do not know the whole story but at the age of 14 you are old enough to tell someone, you have the knowledge that your actions are wrong, and plenty of adults to help. There may not be abortions on PEI, but she could have told her parents, who could have taken her to a doctor and they could have advised her to go to Halifax where it could have been preformed. I was with a friend one time who paid to have an abortion due to kidney failure and a single mom. It was a health risk to her to have this baby. While in that waiting room, there was a lady in there bragging about aborting 4 children in less then a year. That is not right. Due to rape and a medical condition, I can see where you talk to a doctor and they send you to halifax. There is lots of options out there. Mistakes happen but being mentally checked out would also be in this childs best interest.

  • meeee
    November 11, 2011 - 13:16

    i dont believe in abortion it says in the bible not to murder but some people dont seem to care much also i agree with the dev person rape or no rape the child never asked to come into this world millions out there cant have children adopt the baby out abortion angers me

  • disgusted
    November 11, 2011 - 11:50

    wow this just disgusts me, i agree being a women if i was raped i would want an abortion, and i think the goverment/justice system should pay for it in that situation only, if you chose(no matter what age) to have sex with no protection, no birth control,etc... DEAL WITH IT and remember you made the choice to lay down and open your legs, there are so many women out there that would love to have a child and can't, for someone to kill an unborn child because they are scared to tell there parents why were you having sex at 14 to begin with, I don't think the law shold be changed at all, and as for a "PRIVATE" clinic on PEI ya right you realize where you live if you walked in to a private clinic here all the people you didn't want to know would know come on it's PEI. anyways just my thoughts on this topic, if you don't want it give it to someone who dows, don't kill it

  • Dev
    November 11, 2011 - 08:16

    To immature to have a child, and to scared to tell someone the truth.. But perfectly fine with getting drunk and throwing yourself down stairs. Sounds more like this individual needs more than just an abortion.

    • annoyed
      November 11, 2011 - 09:36

      Take a minute everyone to think: What if it wasn't her decisions that put her in that situation...we do not know the entire story... I would be willing to bet that if you put 10 ladies/girls in a room at least 5 or 6 of them have either been raped or severely taken advantage of at some point in their lives. Try telling your parents or anyone else for that matter that you are pregnant when put in that situation... Put some thought into it before you comment on the decisions/actions of others.