When making difficult decisions, there is a surefire method we can employ to determine the way forward. It’s not about making lists of pros and cons, or necessarily doing what is popular, expedient, or most ‘economical’. It’s about identifying your core values and choosing the option that best reflects those values. The way forward then becomes clear.
Sitting down this week with the amazing group of Islanders who have been working for years to bring access to reproductive choice and services to our province, I found myself thinking about our province’s approach to decision making. It certainly seems out of step with the method I just suggested. How did the government decide to move ahead with plans for Reproductive Health and Wellness Centres now, when in 2014, then Health Minister Doug Currie rejected a proposal by Health PEI to provide abortion services to women on the Island? Reportedly, that proposal would have saved thousands of taxpayer dollars while providing PEI women with the same services women can access across Canada. Embracing the status quo (that is, continuing to pay for the service, but off Island) was the platform of the incoming government during and after the election in 2015. So what factors were at play with this sudden change of direction?
The decision was made because the government was almost certainly advised they had no choice. In January 2016 the government was given notice that a lawsuit would be filed to force the province to provide full and unrestricted access to publicly funded abortion services on the Island. Premier MacLachlan was reported to say that the government determined that the most “responsible’ approach was to revise the policy rather than face a long and costly court case.
I find it disheartening to see the current administration willing to do the right thing only when they have no other options; I do not find that to be a particularly inspiring way to lead. Leadership that makes decisions based on popularity, influence or lack of options is inconsistent and unpredictable and lacks the integrity that comes from a commitment to core, expressed values.
For the women who have been advocating for years, the decision they made to organize, lobby, advocate and fight for women’s right to reproductive choice was based on values and a collective belief in equality in human rights, social justice, fairness, and the right of each individual to make and control choices for themselves. It was these values that sustained their fight, fueled their academic research, and ultimately legitimized the legal challenge.
It is important to give credit where credit is due. And to my mind, that credit belongs with the women who worked tirelessly on this issue. Island women will now have access to a wider range of reproductive services and choice because of these women’s perseverance, integrity and values.
Susan Hartley is the Green Party of PEI's Health & Wellness Shadow Critic