Your stories: Navigating Canada’s abortion provider patchwork

Protesters gather at Victoria Park on the one-year anniversary of the death of Dr. Henry Morgentaler in Halifax on Thursday, May 29, 2014 as they campaign for improved access to abortion in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

An abortion access advocacy group is suing Prince Edward Island over its lack of abortion access — it’s the only province in Canada with no abortions at all.

But as Global News has written, women across Canada face barriers to getting reproductive health care. Here are some of their stories, responding to our series on abortion access.

Aisha doesn’t know whether to call it rape.

She’d assented, technically, to intercourse with the abusive father of her three children when he returned uninvited to her apartment.

“But it’s not honest consent,” she said.

She knows she didn’t want it. Or the pregnancy that resulted. She couldn’t stand the feeling of having “no control over my body.”

“He’d named it. He started telling my children, ‘Mommy’s having a baby.’…

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“I knew what I had to do.” And she knew she couldn’t afford the weeks-long wait for an abortion at the local clinic in London, Ont.

So she trekked 200-odd kilometres to Mississauga, paid $60 at a private clinic. Sixteen days later Aisha, her kids and a grocery bag of belongings were on a train to Winnipeg.

“That was the most liberating feeling I have ever gotten in 28 years of my life.”

Aisha is one of more than two dozen women who got in touch with Global News following our series on inequities in abortion access across Canada.

Abortions for some: Access still depends on who you are and where you live

Where can you get an abortion? It’s a secret

Provider patchwork: How abortion access varies across Canada

How the ‘abortion pill’ Mifegymiso could change reproductive health

We were inundated with stories both positive and harrowing of women’s experiences seeking abortions and reproductive care.

‘She has lost a lot of friends over her decision’

The family physician had one word for Joanne’s daughter.

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It wasn’t what the distraught 22-year-old wanted to hear.

The doctor refused to talk to Joanne or her daughter about options that included terminating her unplanned pregnancy — she wouldn’t even refer them to another health practitioner, “not even so much of a list of who to see, or where to go to make an informed decision,” Joanne wrote in an email.

The counsellor Joanne’s daughter was referred to was little better: “It turned out she was pro-life.”

Joanne ended up googling options, finally reaching a HealthLink BC site and, eventually, B.C. Women’s Hospital, where her daughter K. made an appointment and, eventually, had an abortion.

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The procedure went well but K.’s ordeal didn’t end there.

“My daughter chose to talk about what her decision was and had friends, both male and female, calling her names and making insults to her on Facebook. She has lost a lot of friends over her decision about this,” Joanne said.

Years later, she said, there’s still “so much shame involved.”

“No one goes, ‘Hey, by the way, my daughter had an abortion!’ Especially in a community such as ours,” Joanne wrote.

“There is NO doubt in my mind or my daughter’s that her emotional pain and wellbeing would have been, then and now, much better had she received proper information and treatment from the beginning.”

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‘I wasn’t ready at 17. I can’t imagine anyone being ready at 17’

One woman didn’t want an abortion. But late last year, she needed one.

She asked us not to use even her first name: Her family and friends still don’t know.

Her time and energy go into caring for her son, who has special needs. There’s little left over.

“Money is tight. We simply couldn’t afford to have another child,” she wrote in an email.

“We still struggle with it. It’s been a year and I still cry if I think about it. But I don’t regret the choice.”

It’s a choice she spent her youth opposing.

“As a teen I was against abortions. Then I became a mom at 17,” she wrote. “It’s been an experience that really opened my eyes and made me go pro-choice.”

“I wasn’t ready at 17. I can’t imagine anyone being ready at 17. If you are smart enough to know that, you’re already better off then I was.”

‘It’s not like you could just look in the phone book’

Devyn thought she was going to be a mom.

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“We had told the whole family. We’d told his 7-year-old daughter. We’d picked out names.”

Then her partner broke up with her and kicked her out of their shared apartment via text message.

“He doesn’t want me or my baby. He basically gave me two weeks to get out. …

“I had this horrendous panic attack.”

Devyn left Edmonton to sleep on her mother’s couch in Vancouver while she put her life back together. She wasn’t prepared to raise a child without a home or a dad.

But, 15 weeks along, she was surprised how difficult it was to find help ending the pregnancy.

“It’s not like you just look in the phone book.”

She got an appointment at B.C. Women’s Hospital, and “they were so good. … I didn’t have to pay for it. I wouldn’t have had the money.”

In hindsight, Devyn says, “this was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

“I realized I don’t want kids. At all. Ever.”

Not because she doesn’t like kids: She’s worked for years as an early childhood educator and a nanny. She’s studying social work at UBC, wants to get a Masters degree in counselling. Devyn knows she could do all that and raise a child on her own if she wanted to; but she doesn’t want to.

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“I’m really happy with my decision,” she said. “It should be available for everyone.”

‘I was being coerced into changing my mind’

Jane was led astray by the public health workers charged with her care.

Attempting to access an abortion earlier this year, she says, “I was given misinformation by both the physician and the ultrasound clinic” in her hometown in Kamloops, B.C.

She was told, incorrectly, that pharmaceutical abortions aren’t available. And, incorrectly, that she needed to schedule a separate ultrasound appointment before she could talk to anyone about scheduling an abortion.

She couldn’t find a provider anywhere nearby, finally making an appointment at a Vancouver Island clinic.

“When the entire experience was over I’d spent over a thousand dollars on the procedure, renting a car, ferry costs and accommodation,” she wrote in an email.

She wants to believe the mixed messages and misinformation were “the result of ignorance.” But she isn’t so sure.

“There were moments when I certainly felt as if I was being coerced into changing my mind. That they thought that if they made me wait I’d be forced to make a different decision.”

And, Jane says, she knows at least three other women who’ve gone through the same thing.

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“I am one of the fortunate ones who had the money and the opportunity to access the service. I can’t imagine what I would have attempted if I hadn’t.”

Send us your stories: Have you had a rough (or exemplary) experience getting an abortion in Canada? Are you an abortion provider who’s felt targeted (or welcomed) in your community? We want to talk to you.

Note: We may contact you with follow-up questions but won’t publish anything you send us in response to this article without your permission. 


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