Sask. abortion doula calls out gap in services, extends support

The Saskatoon Abortion Support Network is offering non-judgmental support to people considering or dealing with an abortion. One abortion doula is also calling out barriers in accessing the procedure.

Saskatoon Abortion Support Network wants to help people before, during and after

Angie Kells created the SASN because people in Saskatchewan were reporting a struggle in accessing the service. At the same time, States south of the border had started tightening access to abortions and limiting reproductive rights. (Submitted by Angie Kells)

Angie Kells wants to make sure anyone who needs abortion supports or services in the Saskatoon area can get them. But she said gaps in services across the province make that hard to guarantee. 

She's calling for change.

"Reproductive freedom is critical. People should not be forced to continue a pregnancy that they do not want to continue," said Kells, the founder of Saskatoon Abortion Support Network (SASN) and an abortion doula. 

Kells said the province doesn't offer enough options north of Regina, so organizations like the SASN need to fill in the gap.  She's not the first advocate to point out unequal access.  

Regina offers surgical abortions in the second trimester (up to 18 weeks).  The surgical procedure is only available up to 12 weeks in Saskatoon and is not available in Prince Albert. 

"If it becomes difficult accessing abortion care, then all of a sudden your reproductive rights are at risk, your bodily autonomy is at risk," Kells said. 

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She wants surgical options expanded in Saskatoon and Prince Albert. While the SASN is Saskatoon-based, she said there are people from the entire north of the province who need help. They might have to travel more than five hours for the procedure in Regina. The SASN offers free transportation and support for people who need help getting to Regina 

"While we will continue to do it as long as we need to, the government has an obligation to ensure access to abortion to every resident in Saskatchewan." 

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said Regina provides the procedure up to 18 weeks because the health-care workers there have "additional training and skills required to perform this more complex procedure."

They said abortions could be performed up to 14 weeks in Saskatoon under certain circumstances, but did not answer why Prince Albert has no surgical option. The spokesperson said that the free medical abortion option can help people who can't travel to Regina or Saskatoon.

The government started providing universal coverage for the medical abortion option in 2019, lessening financial barriers. However, Kells said the option doesn't solve all access problems because it's only an option up to nine weeks of pregnancy.

She said some don't even know they're pregnant by then, while others have trouble accessing a prescription for the option.

The government spokesperson said "the SHA is continuing to look at options to improve access to services in rural communities, including access to abortion services."

Abortion doulas provide free support 

Abortion doulas like Kells work with the SASN to provide free support beyond transportation. 

They provide information and support to people considering or proceeding with an abortion. Kells said they have learned how to help others through conversations with affected people, lived experience and formal training. 

Kells and several others attended a trauma-informed abortion support training led by abortion doula Shannon Hardy, who visited Saskatchewan from Abortion Support Services Atlantic in 2019. The SASN now also offers abortion doula training for others who want to help. 

Kells said SASN's volunteer abortion doulas can help people in-person, over the phone or text.  They can accompany people to appointments, help find a pharmacy or the right clinic or pick up prescriptions. They also help people navigate the experience once it's over. 

"The vast majority of people who choose abortion feel really good about their decision, not in a happy, joyful sense, but they feel a sense of relief and a sense of confidence," she said. "But they may not have supportive family, friends or partners, so we're there to listen to them if they need to talk."