Abortion doulas offer support in difficult times

Although new to Nova Scotia, the work done by the Maritime Abortion Support Services group is already set to radically change with the approval of drugs like methotrexate and misoprostol.

click to enlarge Abortion doulas offer support in difficult times
Ian Selig
Shannon Hardy knows what it’s like to go through an abortion alone.

Shannon Hardy had six years as a doula under her belt when she discovered that some women in the Maritimes had no access to abortion services in their own province.

"No, it can't be," she says she said when she heard that people on Prince Edward Island had to leave the province if they needed an abortion. "It blew my mind."

Hardy's first thought was that somebody needed to do something, but she couldn't even finish the idea before the solution struck her: "I'm somebody."

That's when she created the Maritime Abortion Support Services group on Facebook.

In the five years since, the group has supported more than 250 people through abortions. Last month, Hardy put on an "abortion doula" training session. The program helps volunteers walk clients through practical concerns, like getting bloodwork, booking an ultrasound and answering questions as simple as "Where do I go?"

It also teaches participants how to be a respectful yet comforting presence, and tips for aftercare. Abortion doulas do not give medical advice but, like birth doulas, provide information and support.

All 18 spots in the program were booked as soon as it was announced, and Hardy is preparing another training session for later this year.

Hardy first became passionate about reproductive justice and sexual health while working at Venus Envy. Later, as a social worker, she was fascinated and stunned by the lack of support and awareness around abortion care.

But beyond her work history, Hardy has concrete personal experience that has driven her forward. She knows what it's like to go through an abortion alone.

"I've had two abortions. I've had a miscarriage," she says. "I've had a stillbirth, and two live births...and for each experience, I needed someone."

Maritime Abortion Support Services started as a contact point on Facebook, connecting people seeking abortions to volunteers. Often, that meant picking someone up at the Confederation Bridge, taking them to their appointment and helping them get home or to a place to rest afterward.

In 2015, the PEI government agreed to improve access to abortion by coordinating with hospitals in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. But the demand for support through Hardy's group isn't shrinking. The wait for an abortion in Nova Scotia alone can be as long as 12 weeks, or one full trimester of pregnancy.

Today, Hardy works closely with the Termination of Pregnancy Unit in the Victoria General hospital. They keep her phone number taped to the wall. The nurses call her if someone comes in with no one to take them home.

Although the service is brand new in Nova Scotia, Hardy says the work of an abortion doula is about to radically change with the approval by Health Canada of abortion drugs like methotrexate and misoprostol.

The drugs can only be prescribed by general practice doctors with special training. "No other drug requires special training" to dispense, Hardy points out.

The need for support and training for abortion doulas will remain, even as these drugs become available, Hardy begins to explain. But she can't finish her argument. Her cell phone rings. It's a nurse in the TPU. Someone needs a lift home.

"I'll be right there," she responds, and heads back to the hospital.

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