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Abortion access has improved since 2012 but more could be done, survey finds

One-third of women in Canada will have an abortion in their lifetime.
"We saw a big increase in both the number of abortion providers and the amount number of abortions provided using medical abortion," says Dr. Madeleine Ennis of UBC.

Access to abortion in Canada has improved from 2012 to 2019, according to a national survey from the University of British Columbia's department of obstetrics and gynaecology.

"We saw a big increase in both the number of abortion providers and the number of abortions provided using medical abortion," says Madeleine Ennis of UBC.

Researchers surveyed physicians and nurse practitioners, distributing the web-based survey to professional organizations, including the College of Family Physicians of Canada and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada.

The findings were based on 465 respondents representing all 10 provinces and three territories in Canada. A majority of the respondents were medical practitioners, including 30 nurses, who provided first-trimester medical abortion. Of these, most of them used mifepristone, or colloquially known as the abortion pill.

In 2019, about 84,000 medical and surgical abortions were reported to the Canadian Institute of Health Information. (One-third of women in Canada will have an abortion in their lifetime.)

In their 2012 survey, researchers note that less than 300 physicians provided abortion care. Many doctors' practice focused on it.

Unlike surgical abortion, Ennis states medical abortion is an abortion that is induced through medication use.

"Medical abortion has helped facilitate improved access to abortion care. You can have abortions closer to home in rural communities, or private practices, primary care. And so people don't have to travel as far for care, they can have an abortion in the comfort of their own home."

Ennis tells Glacier Media researchers were hopeful they would see more rural medical practitioners providing medical abortion — which they did in this survey.

"Prior to the arrival of mifepristone, most abortions were being provided in high-volume clinics in urban centres by abortion providers who were providing thousands of abortions per year. And now, more family doctors are providing one or two a year to their patients."

Despite the significant finding of increased abortion care in Canada, Ennis notes that there is still work to be done, especially in government support.

"We still are seeing a lot of people in rural communities, not able to access abortion care close to home. There's still a lot of physicians or pharmacists that are making it hard for people to access care. ... There's also like the fear of stigma, and harassment, from potential providers that prevent them from providing care," she says.

"Putting more support in place to support people who want to provide abortion care, and rural communities, will really help. And then similarly, having more testing available in rural areas, like ultrasound, blood testing, emergency services, as well. It will all be key to continuing to expand our abortion access."