The above image, of a red-haired woman looking suspiciously like Anne of Green Gables with her face covered, has been circulating throughout Prince Edward Island, in posters on the streets and in posts on social media. The culture wars are heating up on Prince Edward Island.
Abortion has been decriminalized in Canada for decades, but it is still not readily accessible throughout the country. Vice recently noted that abortion is difficult to access throughout the Maritimes, given the dispersed and substantially rural population as well as strict regulation by provincial governments.
Prince Edward Island is unique even in the Maritimes Canada as the only province where abortion is not available. Even though Charlottetown’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital has the facilities needed, even though there are doctors willing to provide the service, the provincial government has refused to allow the procedure. Even non-surgical abortions are difficult to come by, with local hospitals not being allowed to provide followup care. This forces Island women who want abortions to leave the province for the mainland.
The consequence of this is to make abortion inaccessible. I blogged last year about how one Island-born woman living in Halifax has opened her home to Island women, and apparently the provincial government has set up a toll-free number to let Island women arrange an abortion in the New Brunswick city of Moncton, but these are stopgap measures. Unless an Island woman has the time needed to make a trip to the mainland, and has the financial resources to afford it, abortion is inaccessible.
This is where the current campaign comes in. Linked to the Twitter account @iamkarats, the image of provincial pop-culture icon Anne Shirley has been harnessed.
An anti-abortion group on P.E.I. is responding to posters that have gone up in Charlottetown and on social media calling on the province to make abortion available on the Island.
The posters show an image of a red-headed, pig-tailed woman or girl wearing a bandana, and use the hashtags #AccessNow, #SupportIslandWomen, and #HeyWade — as a direct appeal to premier Wade MacLauchlan.
[. . .]
Ann Wheatley, co-chair of Abortion Access Now PEI, said she doesn’t know who’s behind the posters and they aren’t affiliated with her group.
Wheatley does like the posters, saying they’re a clever and creative way to bring attention to the issue.
“I think the posters are quite brilliant,” she said. “They catch your eye … and it sends a very straightforward message that is we need our political leaders to pay attention to Island women and do the right thing.”
On Jan. 5, Abortion Access Now PEI served the provincial government notice that they would be filing a lawsuit suing for abortion access on the Island. Under the Crown Proceedings Act, any group filing a lawsuit against the province is required to provide notice of 90 days.
CBC reached out to the person or group behind the iamkarats social media accounts on Wednesday. They declined to reveal their identities but did release a written statement Thursday afternoon via an email address under the name Shirley Karats. Shirley is Anne’s last name, and she was infamously called “carrots” by Gilbert Blythe in the L.M. Montgomery book.
I think this brilliant. Prince Edward Island’s pop culture is quite often excessively traditional and conservative, even intentionally retrograde, looking to a rural and traditional past that it prized beyond any reasonable measure. It’s exactly this sort of thing that alienated me from the Island. What I find positive–what I find positively endearing, in fact–is the mobilization of this central figure of the Island for non-traditional goals. Why mightn’t Anne Shirley, raised in our era, have wanted accessible abortion on the Island? She herself was a decidedly non-traditional girl, growing up after some tumult into a non-traditional family and then going on to university, eventually becoming a creative professional in her own right. Why would Anne necessarily be conservative? That’s such an unimaginative treatment of a character who was defined by her ability to imagine new things.
I have no idea how the current campaign will end. Perhaps abortion will become available on the Island, or perhaps the matter will get ignored. My props go, regardless, to @iamkarats. This kind of imaginative engagement with the Island’s past will do much good.