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.


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.


Shan­non Hardy knows what it’s like to go through an abor­tion alone.

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