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Kickstarting PEI's Pro-choice Movement

The Activist, Spring 2012

By Kandace Hagen

When I volunteered to sit down with Dr. Colleen MacQuarrie to participate in her project, “Understanding for a Change: Research Project on Experiences with Accessing Abortion on PEI”, I had no idea it would spur my inner activist into action.

In the summer of 2009 I discovered that I was pregnant. Upon realization, I knew that I would not carry the pregnancy to term. It was neither a difficult nor an emotional decision for me. I examined my life as it was, and knew I was not equipped to have my second child at the age of twenty-two. The birth of my first child invoked a raw awakening of my womanhood. It has been the most prominent and powerful experience of my life. It also brought with it a new sense of personal connection. As completed as I felt being a mother, I knew that I was not prepared to answer the call a second time. Three years later, I do not have a single regret. I know I made the right decision for both myself and my family.

Completely unaware of what options were open to me in terms of termination, I made an appointment with my family physician. So when he informed me my only option was to go to the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton, I took him at face value. My failed Google searches on ‘Prince Edward Island Abortion’ had turned up nothing beyond P.E.I’s Pro-Life jargon and misinformation. I telephoned the clinic to set up my appointment. Based on the date of my last menstrual cycle, they were concerned that I may arrive at the clinic too early in my first trimester to have the procedure performed. They did not wish to have me spend money on transportation and over-night accommodations (which are strongly recommended when coming in from P.E.I) only to have to send me home. The procedure was then scheduled for two weeks time to ensure I had surpassed the eight week mark.

After my arrival in Fredericton, the walk through irritating protesters, the sign in, the $800 payment, and a formal counseling session, I was given an ultrasound to determine how many weeks I was into my first trimester. It was then, due to the Ultrasound Technician leaving the sonogram directly beside me, that I realized I was less than a week away from meeting my second trimester. Instead of ensuring I was beyond the eight week mark, I nearly failed to qualify for a first trimester abortion. A second trimester abortion would have meant travelling to Montreal or Ottawa. The procedure went ahead as scheduled with no complications and within a few weeks I felt like my body was once again my own. Personally, I felt no guilt or remorse. Contrary to the assertions made by some Pro-Life advocates, I did not experience feelings of intense depression, exist within a state of denial, nor did I develop a substance abuse problem due to my decision.

Two years passed when I came across Dr. MacQuarrie’s call for Island women to share their experiences in accessing reproductive services within PEI. I felt compelled to participate. After relating my story, she informed me with a heavy heart that my doctor could have referred me to the Queen Elizabeth II in Halifax. That my doctor could have ordered an ultrasound be done immediately to determine how many weeks I had been pregnant. The risk of missing my first trimester mark could have been easily avoided. While I left her office grateful for the knowledge, I was enraged that information may have been denied to women in similar situations. Not only do I live in Canada’s only province not to provide women with access to abortion care, I live in a community that denies women access to information with regards to their reproductive rights. I knew I needed to take immediate action. I had no idea that my initial goal to blow the lid off the stigmatized topic of abortion in my rural province of P.E.I would create a wave of international feminist support.

Through the use of social media, I began to raise awareness about the lack of information and services on abortion care in PEI. An equally enraged local feminist got in touch with me via Facebook and volunteered to distribute information. We wanted to ensure women knew what their options were. We wanted contact information of the Morgentaler Clinic in Fredericton and the Termination of Pregnancy Unit in the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Halifax to be readily available to the public. Another volunteer came forward to help support our cause. A similar rage had awoken within her and a mutual friend when they witnessed participants in a prolife demonstration dispersed along one of Charlottetown’s main streets. That a legitimate pro-choice voice was not being vocalized inspired a call to action within them.

We all decided to get together and mull over the injustice of it all in a quaint apartment in our capital city. When we departed we walked out as the founding members of the Prince Edward Island Reproductive Rights Organization, with a very clever acronym of PRRO. With the support of these incredible women, I decided to make my personal experience public to showcase that some Island doctors were not acting in the best interest of their patients seeking pregnancy termination. While it has been a struggle at times to face the criticism I received from non-supportive parties, I remained sound in my decision. It was crucial to our cause to have a woman step forward whose reproductive rights had been denied within our province, and I believed it to be my responsibility as a concerned woman to step into that role.

Through rallies, presentations, and meeting with elected officials, we are slowly working to ensure provincial accessibility for abortion services. Information on abortion access for Island women now exists on government websites, whereas there was no searchable information prior to our lobby efforts. Now when one types ‘Prince Edward Island Abortion’ into Google, you will find information related to the procedure itself and how to proceed. We acknowledge that while we have made headway in our efforts of accessibility to abortion services in PEI, we still have a long journey ahead of us. This is one we accept willingly, with steadfast dedication and conviction. Prince Edward Island is our home, and we will continue to strive for a country with universal reproductive services for its entire population.

Kandace Hagen is an abortion activist, mother and founding member of the Prince Edward Island Reproductive Rights Organization, happily residing in Charlottetown, PEI.