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Debate over access to abortion in Prince Edward Island intensifies

CHARLOTTETOWN - The debate over abortion access in Prince Edward Island is intensifying after the provincial government rejected a proposal to have physicians come in to the province to perform the procedure, a position that has frustrated abortion rights advocates.

The National Abortion Federation, a Washington-based group that represents abortion providers, says it has found three doctors willing to travel to P.E.I. on a regular basis to perform abortions there.

Federation president Vicki Saporta said the plan would save money in the long run for the province because the procedure would be done in a P.E.I. hospital rather than being contracted out to a hospital outside the province, which is now the case for P.E.I. women seeking publicly funded abortions.

"It could be implemented in an existing facility with existing personnel, and just the doctor being able to come into the province," Saporta said Tuesday in an interview.

But Premier Robert Ghiz has dismissed the idea.

"Prince Edward Island is a small jurisdiction and we have a lot of our health care services that are offered in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Abortion services happens to be one of those," the Liberal premier said.

"We pay for the service in hospitals in other provinces and we are going to continue along with that status quo."

Saporta said that is unsatisfactory.

"It may be working for him politically, but it's not working for women in the province," she said. "That should be his concern."

P.E.I. does not offer abortions in the province. The government will pay for the cost of abortions outside the province if they are done in hospitals with a doctor's referral, but travel costs are not covered.

According to Health PEI, about 70 women from the province travel to Halifax each year to have an abortion.

Ghiz's comments have done little to pacify opponents of abortion, who staged a rally Sunday outside the legislature in Charlottetown.

Holly Pierlot, president of P.E.I. Right to Life, said the province's policy is too lenient and the government should not be paying for abortions on demand.

"Abortion is a negative and life-affecting procedure for the woman, and a fatal decision for the child," she said.

The controversy is simmering weeks after the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton announced it will close at the end of July because of a lack of funding from the New Brunswick government.

In that province, women who want publicly funded abortions must have them done at two approved hospitals and get approval from two doctors certifying it is medically necessary, and like Ghiz, Premier David Alward has also refused to change the status quo.

Simone Leibovitch, the manager of the Morgentaler Clinic, said between 70 and 80 women from P.E.I. bypass hospitals and pay for a private abortion at the facility annually.

Saporta said the closure of that clinic will mean more P.E.I. women will be seeking abortions in Halifax, adding to the waiting list for the procedure in that city.

Ghiz said he is aware of the future closure of the clinic but he's not wavering from his view.

"We'll make sure we work with other jurisdictions," he said. "We're going to abide by the law and continue paying for those services."

— By Kevin Bissett in Fredericton.

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