Canada’s unequal abortion services leave women trapped

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It’s unforgivable that legal early abortions are often inaccessible to Canadians living outside major cities.

Often, an abortion is a difficult choice, for reasons ranging from financial constraints to knowledge of available resources.  

The Globe and Mail’s Atlantic bureau chief, Jessica Leeder, recently detailed her difficulty getting an abortion in Nova Scotia, despite her financial stability and understanding of resources.

In Nova Scotia, if you’re less than eight weeks pregnant—the optimal time for abortion due to low medical risk and minimal recovery time—it can be almost impossible to access the procedure.

The province requires a family doctor to prescribe an abortion pill or refer you to a physician who will. Nobody is granted an abortion before eight weeks of pregnancy, though the rationale for this remains unexplained.

Doctors able to prescribe abortion pills, overwhelmed by calls from the provincial abortion help hotline, recently stopped giving out their numbers. Even with a referral for a surgical abortion, the provincial ultrasound queue is vastly overburdened.

By the time a Nova Scotian woman can access an abortion, her first trimester has likely passed, and the physical and mental health consequences of the procedure are much higher-risk.

This has parallels in Kingston. Students with unplanned pregnancies face financial and emotional turmoil intensified by long wait times for clinics and ultrasounds.

Many students can’t afford a day trip to Toronto or Ottawa to access a quick abortion procedure. Staying pregnant with no other choice is terrifying—all the more so if a person feels unable to share their burden with family or friends.

Compare this to Toronto, which has more abortion clinics than all of Saskatchewan, and where a same-day procedure is available even on Saturdays.

Abortion is legal in Canada and we pride ourselves on our healthcare system—it’s unacceptable that those in smaller communities have limited access to abortion services.

Anyone might need an abortion, from a teen in St. John’s to a married mother in Halifax.

They might not be able to afford a child, or may suffer from pregnancy or post-partum depression, among other reasons.

If a woman lives in precarious circumstances in a small town—with limited income, an unforgiving family or an abusive partner—she has little ability to navigate the labyrinth of abortion access.

This is a stark reminder of the difficulty Canadian women face daily trying to access a safe and legal procedure. Abortion’s legality doesn’t mean it’s easy to access. We can lose track of the actual experience of women in these situations.

We must be aware of stagnation of progress. It’s up to healthcare professionals, from doctors to counsellors, to provide women with all the information available about how to access abortion within a reasonable and affordable timeframe.

Journal Editorial Board

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