This story talks about abortion. It may be triggering for some readers.
For Queen’s students who access abortion, finding resources might not be their biggest hurdle. However, services touting post-abortion support aren’t always transparent about their motivation.
Sara*, whose name has been protected, is an undergraduate student at Queen’s who recently accessed an abortion after experiencing an unplanned pregnancy. In an interview, she told The Journal that despite not seeking out post-abortion support, she’s seen only one service’s advertisements around town.
That service is the Kingston Pregnancy Care Centre (KPCC), located downtown. The service, a faith-based organization, doesn’t provide or assist in arranging for abortions and some local health professionals discourage seeking out their services.
Sara said she isn’t sure that she’ll require any formal emotional supports following her procedure, but feels that people who have accessed an abortion, particularly students, would benefit from being made aware of all of their options for post-abortion resources.
For some, the procedure is merely a necessary step on the journey towards returning to their normal lives following an unwanted pregnancy. For others, accessing an abortion may coincide with a more complex emotional response.
It’s a common misconception that accessing an abortion explicitly contributes to a negative impact on a person’s mental health. This isn’t true: according to the American Psychological Association, having an abortion does not increase a person’s risk for depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Of course, this doesn’t mean people don’t struggle post-abortion.
Associated factors, like intra-family conflict, stigmatization of the procedure, and strain on romantic relationships can make a person’s experience post-abortion a difficult one. It’s these people who stand to gain from a strong slate of resources at their disposal.
For Sara, accessing an abortion wasn’t a decision that warranted much deliberation.
“I knew going into it that I didn’t want to go through with the pregnancy,” she told The Journal. “I knew that if something like this ever happened, I wouldn’t want it to be treated like a big deal, and I wouldn’t want to have people all over me like, ‘Oh my god, are you okay?’”
According to Ashley Waddington, a gynecologist at Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) and the program medical director of the hospital’s Women’s Clinic, Sara’s outlook on her procedure isn’t an uncommon one.
“This might sound a little surprising, but a lot of patients don’t say they need a lot of support [post-abortion],” Waddington told The Journal. “Obviously, they’re not happy to be in a situation requiring abortion, but it’s not a really fraught decision for them. They’re comfortable with the decision that they’re making, and they want to kind of get through it and move past it.”
Waddington explained that, for many, the abortion procedure provides people relief from a situation they didn’t want to be in. More often than not, it’s conflict surrounding the decision to access an abortion that has the emotional toll on the patients she sees.
According to Waddington, whether it’s financial factors, housing issues, damage to a family or romantic relationship, the stress of a potential disruption to their career or education, extenuating circumstances outside of the need to terminate an unwanted pregnancy are frequently the root cause of any emotional distress or mental health struggles after the abortion procedure.
For those who do find themselves in need of support—which Waddington said is a completely normal reaction—the KHSC Women’s Clinic offers its patients accessing abortion the opportunity to speak to a social worker about their situation. The social worker is available to patients both prior to and after their procedure, in person or via phone call.
“It’s very helpful to have [patients] speak with a social worker, because it’s not usually a medical decision; they’re not usually making a decision about the medical consequences of terminating the pregnancy versus continuing the pregnancy,” Waddington noted. “It’s often the other aspects of their life that are influencing [their decision]. And that really falls more in the expertise of a social worker.”
Waddington would highly discourage people from accessing the KPCC, formerly named the Kingston Pregnancy Crisis Centre, for post-abortion support.
According to their website, the KPCC is a faith-based organization that offers free, confidential, and non-judgmental peer support and counselling to women facing unplanned or stressful pregnancy. They don’t provide or assist in arranging for abortions.
“If we have any inkling that somebody has either contacted that clinic ahead of time, or may be heading towards contacting that clinic, we would highly discourage that,” said Waddington. “They absolutely are a religiously-backed anti-abortion group, and so you’re not likely to find supportive or non-judgmental counseling by going that route.”
Even if a person who didn’t access their abortion in Kingston reaches out looking for support, they could also be connected with the Women’s Clinic’s social worker, Waddington said.
Beyond aiding with social services, social workers are equipped to provide patients with emotional support. The social worker is available to patients for as long as they need them—typically around a month or two following the procedure—and at no cost to patients.
In the rare situation where a person requires long-term support for an ongoing mental health concern, the Women’s Clinic offers referrals to mental health professionals in the community.
Waddington also suggested that Queen’s students could reasonably look for support within the school’s resources, such as Student Wellness Services.
Sara said the option to seek out support at Student Wellness Services should be made explicitly clear to Queen’s students who access an abortion at the KHSC, which wasn’t her experience.
“I’m not sure if it would have benefited me because I honestly don’t know if I need to use [Student Wellness Services’ counselling]. But I think they should give the options to students,” she said.
Not all post-abortion support systems can adequately meet the needs of the patient.
A 2015 study from the University of Ottawa examined how the post-abortion support offered at Ontario pregnancy crisis centres—formerly including KPCC—contributes to abortion stigma. The study found that the interactions with counselors from the crisis centres “contained shaming and stigmatizing language and medically inaccurate information.”
“We offer that either someone can meet one-on-one or in a group setting. Really, we just tailor it to whatever she needs, whatever she’s feeling,” Elizabeth Sacrey, executive director at the KPCC, said in an interview. “We do have a 10-week program that they can go through, but if they’re not comfortable with that, then that’s when we’ll just do one-on-one meetings with them.”
Sacrey explained that, while the KPCC offers referrals to mental health professionals when they are needed, the resources available to people post-abortion are a form of peer counselling in the form of volunteer and staff-based support groups or one-on-one meetings.
She said all counselling, including that in a group setting, is strictly confidential, and that all participants are required to sign a confidentiality waiver. Sacrey wouldn’t provide The Journal with a blank copy of said waiver for reference.
When asked if the KPCC is considered to be a pro-life organization, Sacrey hesitantly agreed.
“We are pro-life in the technical term, but we prefer the term life-affirming, just because pro-life has such a political tone to it. We’re not a political organization, we don’t do anything political,” she said.
The KPCC is visible in the Kingston community through its advertising as a resource for pregnant and struggling women. The organization displays advertisements on Kingston Transit buses, which are a frequent mode of transportation for Queen’s students.
Sara was concerned that these ads dominated the conversation surrounding post-abortion resources available in Kingston.
“As far as [advertising for any post-abortion services] that Queen’s or Kingston General Hospital offers, I haven’t seen anything. The bus signs are the only things I’ve seen in the community,” she told The Journal.
For Sara, normalizing abortion is a key part of creating positive support systems for people who have accessed the procedure.
“People get abortions. Queen’s students get abortions. I knew people that had abortions in high school. There’s no shame in not wanting to have a kid when you’re in your early 20s, or 18 or 19, or whatever. The medical system in Kingston is probably the best kind of care you could go for,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask people questions.”
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