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Risk of losing abortion access can be stressful, experts say. Here’s how to cope

Click to play video: 'Could Canadian doctors face legal issues providing abortion services to Americans?'
Could Canadian doctors face legal issues providing abortion services to Americans?
As abortion laws change across many U.S. states, there are concerns Canadian providers could be held liable or even charged criminally for providing the procedure to a U.S. citizen. Heather Yourex-West looks at why a national body that helps doctors navigate legal issues is asking the Canadian government for help. – Jul 10, 2022

Losing or potentially losing access to abortion could be distressing for many. Jessica Shaw, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Calgary, says the overturn of Roe v. Wade in the U.S. has impacted not only those living in America but also people in Canada and others around the world.

“Most people are feeling shock, sadness, anger, fear. And those are all valid feelings when we see another country, almost in its entirety, has cut off access to abortion rights,” she said.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark ruling of Roe v. Wade, which ended constitutional rights to abortion in the country.

Across the globe, there are 24 countries that prohibit abortion. There are 42 countries that only permit abortion when the woman’s life is at risk, according to the Centre for Reproductive Rights.

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Read more: Here’s how Roe v. Wade overturn is impacting other medical care in U.S.

Rebecca Rudolph describes the overturn of Roe v. Wade as a “roller coaster of an experience” for her.

Rudolph is a 27-year-old woman who lives in the conservative-leaning state of Indiana. On July 8, a federal judge removed an injunction in Indiana, resulting in the restriction of second-trimester abortion in the state.

“We all just felt so betrayed, scared and angry,” said Rudolph. “It was like entering a really dark era. It was hard.”

Rudolph said although she recently started reaching out to her local community for emotional support, on some days she still “can’t believe this is happening.”

Shaw says the abortion ban in the U.S. “hits really close to home” for a lot of Canadians. She adds that despite some cultural differences, many in Canada feel similarly impacted because both countries are supposed to be democracies where citizens are supposed to be able to “at least access the health-care resources that they need.”

As opponents of abortion rights celebrate, many advocates in Canada and worldwide have been marching in solidarity with Americans impacted by the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Click to play video: 'The fallout of Roe V. Wade: Canada’s role in safeguarding access to abortion'
The fallout of Roe V. Wade: Canada’s role in safeguarding access to abortion

Canadian abortion rights supporters have been holding demonstrations since the overturn of Roe v. Wade last month, with the most recent one held in London, Ont., on July 16. Last month, protests were held in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

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Despite abortion being legal in Canada, critics say access is still an issue that needs to be addressed due to the long distances some need to travel to access services and a lack of funding.

Abortion was decriminalized in Canada after a 1988 Supreme Court decision — also known as  R. v. Morgentaler — but no bill has ever been passed to enshrine abortion access into law.

However, after the recent turn of events in the United States, the Canadian government says it is looking into the possibility of protecting Canadian health workers facing legal risks for providing abortion services to Americans from states where the procedure has been outlawed.

Read more: Canada considers legal risks for health workers providing abortion to U.S. patients

“It’s really important that only the person who’s able to get pregnant is able to decide if, how and when their body is used to continue a pregnancy and to carry life,” said Shaw. “I think this is why this resonates and we’re feeling it so deeply.”

Erin Mullan, an abortion counsellor and a sexual health educator based in B.C., says abortion bans could also heighten a feeling of shame, which might cause anxiety in many.

“Abortion is very common, but unintended pregnancy is an out-of-control experience and it’s stressful having to deal with it, even when someone’s completely certain and fine with their decision,” said Mullan.

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“When it’s all over the news with the language used around abortion that is very shaming and stigmatizing, it just heightens something that’s already hard,” said Mullan. “It makes it worse.”

Read more: Quebec no longer requires ultrasound to access abortion pill: physicians’ order

According to the Turnaway study, which examined the effects of unwanted pregnancy on women’s lives, being denied an abortion could also lead to more economic hardships and insecurity that could last for years.

On top of that, pregnant people who were turned away from getting an abortion are “more likely to stay in contact with a violent partner,” while some are more likely to raise the child alone, the study shows.

Mullan says that in her many years of counselling, she has learned that most people make the decision to end a pregnancy because they value children.

“If we’re going to be mothers, we want to be able to be good ones and provide a good life,” said Mullan.

Thirty-year-old Britt Doyon, who lives in Canada, said the abortion ban in the U.S. is terrifying for them as a non-binary person with a transgender wife.

Doyon said they fear “something as drastic as overturning the Roe v. Wade” will make its way to Canada and abortion bans are just the tip of “the iceberg in America.”

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“They’re gonna start with abortion, and they’re gonna move their way on to LGBTQ+ rights,” they said.

To cope with such things, they said they want to be more proactive in their support of abortion rights access for all.

Click to play video: 'More than 100 pro-choice protestors gather in Kelowna in wake of Roe v. Wade ruling overturned'
More than 100 pro-choice protestors gather in Kelowna in wake of Roe v. Wade ruling overturned

Need for self-care in a post-Roe world

Mullan says there are places in the world where progress being made in abortion access.

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“It’s not all bad everywhere,” she said, noting that Colombia became the latest country in Latin America to decriminalize abortion in February 2022.

Looking for the “more positive voices” could be helpful to ease distress related to political change, according to Mullan.

“There are groups working to break the silence around abortion, to give folks a place to share their abortion stories,” said Mullan. “By reading other people’s stories, being able to share your own adds to the normalization of abortion.”

Jill Doctoroff, the executive director of the National Abortion Federation, urges people to turn their sense of helplessness into action.

“What you’re seeing is some people are feeling overwhelmed, they’re feeling powerless,” said Doctoroff. “They can look at what can they do in their own community — maybe volunteer some time. Do they have some area of influence? Or if they are able to provide some financial support to abortion rights organizations.”

Engaging in conversations about abortion rights can be the very first step, Doctoroff says.

“The biggest thing we can do is to not be judgmental and recognize that every individual and their lives are different,” she said. “We need to be able to trust the woman or the person who can get pregnant, that the decision they’re making for themselves is the best decision at that time.”

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Read more: Montreal man opens up about vasectomy at 27 in response to overturning of Roe v. Wade

Each person feels different before and after getting an abortion, says Shaw.

“For some people, there might be that regret, but overall and overwhelmingly, study after study … the sense of relief is what people feel when they have an abortion.”

“I think we need to be able to hold space for all of those feelings,” said Shaw, adding that it is important to validate how each person feels.

Shaw says when dealing with suffering that arises from social issues, self-care must move beyond the individual.

“We’re grieving together as humanity and as people with uteruses who are scared about our lack of rights,” said Shaw. “We should care for each other as we care for ourselves.”

— with files from Global News’ Sean Boynton and the Associated Press

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