Abortion may be legal but it remains difficult to access for people in the north, says doula

While abortion is legal in Canada, there remain barriers to access in northern Ontario, according to a Sudbury-based doula.

Sudbury doula says U.S. Supreme Court decision to overthrow Roe v. Wade hit close to home

Protestors gathered in Washington, D.C., after the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe v. Wade. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

While abortion is legal in Canada, barriers remain for people trying to access them in northern Ontario, according to a Sudbury-based doula.

Jacqueline Villeneuve-Ahmed is a full-spectrum doula. She provides support to people through birth, postpartum and pregnancy terminations. 

She said a lack of awareness and education continue to be the biggest hurdles to obtaining an abortion in northeastern Ontario.

"We aren't provided with the information starting from when we learn about reproductive health as to where we can access abortion services," said Villeneuve-Ahmed, who founded Bloom Collective in Sudbury, which offers a full suite of doula services.

"And this really continues on from adolescence into adulthood, not knowing where to go, not knowing who you have to speak to, not knowing what to expect."

Villeneuve-Ahmed said some people who need to have their pregnancies terminated at a later stage are forced to travel to Toronto for the procedure.

"And that can be not only very financially draining for families, but also very emotionally draining, having to go to an entirely different community just to access a medical abortion," she said.

Villeneuve-Ahmed said she experienced a medical abortion just over a year ago when she had a miscarriage.

She said the recent Supreme Court of the United States ruling, which struck down the longstanding Roe v. Wade decision, which generally protected people's right to an abortion in the U.S., affected her on a personal level.

In the court's majority decision, Justice Samuel Alito Jr. concluded that abortion is never mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. He adhered to a principle known as "original intent", which looks at the Constitution's language to provide direction on contemporary issues.

Jacqueline Villeneuve-Ahmed is the founder of Bloom Collective in Sudbury, which offers a full suite of doula services. (Submitted by Jacqueline Villeneuve-Ahmed)

"So this ruling really hit close to home, knowing that so many women and birthing people will have to navigate some very difficult emotions and difficult scenarios when they're navigating both losses and just the choice whether or not they want to continue with a pregnancy," Villeneuve-Ahmed said.

In an email to CBC News, the The Sudbury Manitoulin Abortion Support Collective said the court's decision was "concerning to all of us dedicated to supporting abortion access throughout the world."

The collective is a non-profit volunteer group that provides confidential, free support and advocacy for persons in need of abortion in the Greater Sudbury and Manitoulin Island district.

Unequal access

In the email, the collective said that while it may appear Canadians have equal access to abortion services, that isn't true.

"There are invisible barriers for many individuals in a variety of situations across Canada which limit abortion access," the email said.

The collective highlighted geographic and financial barriers, along with access to neutral health care providers, as issues people seeking abortion services can face.

"Those of us concerned with the right to access abortion care must stay vigilant and guarded," they said.

With files from Sam Juric