Abortion remains a sensitive topic that is surrounded by stigma. Previous research has shown that some women in Ontario want to talk with someone about their abortion following the procedure. With this in mind, researchers from the University of Ottawa investigated post-abortion support services in Ontario. They found, through an evaluation of phone-based services, that Ontario crisis pregnancy centres (CPCs) contribute to the current stigma and provide services that pathologize women's abortion experiences.
CPCs account for the majority of advertised providers of post-abortion support in Ontario. Although the methods used by these organizations to dissuade women from seeking abortion care are well documented, the provision of post-abortion support by the organizations had not been previously explored. Kathryn J. LaRoche and Dr. Angel M. Foster, both with the Faculty of Health Sciences, conducted a study aimed at filling this gap.
The results of our evaluation are concerning, states Professor Foster. Counsellors at CPCs, in particular, insisted that the client's single first trimester abortion would lead to depression, anxiety, sleep disorders and substance abuse. A considerable body of evidence has demonstrated that having a first-trimester abortion does not cause mental health disorders.
Lay counsellors from these centres appear to be guided by several core assumptions: abortion is a traumatic birth loss, abortion requires a grieving process, abortion leads to post-abortion stress, and recovery after an abortion requires extensive in-person contact. None of these assumptions are supported by research, in Canada or elsewhere, adds Ms. LaRoche.
The qualitative mystery client study included 17 organizations in Ontario providing post-abortion support. The study team spoke to lay counsellors from three secular and three religiously affiliated talk lines, one sexual health centre and 10 CPCs offering phone-based support. Every conversation began with the researcher saying, I'm looking to talk to someone about my abortion, and then the interaction continued organically. Each call used the same language and client profile in order to compare interactions between organizations.
The researchers are hoping that this study can raise greater public awareness and help steer women seeking post-abortion support to organizations that offer non-judgmental and non-directive services instead of to CPCs. Our study suggests that there are organizations that offer high-quality, non-judgmental post-abortion support services in Ontario. Given that there is documented demand for these services in the province, it's essential that these services are advertised and promoted to women so that women can make an informed decision about who to contact, says Professor Foster.
For a copy of the study, published in Contraception, please contact the Media Relations team.
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