It's just as difficult to access abortion services at Canadian hospitals, researcher Jessica Shaw learned as she called all 718 facilities across the country, posing as a pregnant woman.
Instead of helpful information or referrals, she was hung up on, laughed at, told no one would talk to her, given misleading information or greeted by a long silence on the other end of the phone line.
In one hospital, Shaw was referred to the psychiatric ward.
"I can only imagine what it does to a woman when this is their first contact person," she said yesterday at the 29th annual Guelph Sexuality Conference, hosted by the University of Guelph.
Shaw did her polling of hospitals for a report recently released by Canadians For Choice, a charitable organization that advocates for sexual and reproductive rights.
Instead of focusing on clinics, Shaw chose to concentrate on hospitals -- the entry point into the health-care system for many women.
When a woman wants to have an abortion in Canada, it's not as easy as one might think, she said
Wow! What a harrowing experience for a woman who is already distressed.
From her calls last year, Shaw found 15.9 per cent of Canadian hospitals provide accessible abortion services -- a drop from 17.8 per cent in 2003. She found wait times could be as long as six weeks, and said abortion services across the country were poorly dispersed.
"A woman in northern Manitoba may have to travel 20 hours to get an abortion. . . . There is a lack of access for rural women and certainly northern women," Shaw said.
One of the barriers is the expense of travelling to the nearest location offering an abortion, she said.
Andrea Grant, a counsellor at the Calgary Sexual Health Centre who attended yesterday's session, said many of the women who come to Alberta for an abortion are from the Maritimes, where even fewer hospitals offer the procedure.
For example, no hospitals in Prince Edward Island perform abortions.
Beatrice du Prey, Grant's colleague, said travel is a deterrent for women, especially if they're teenagers.
Anti-choice organizations and judgmental gatekeepers at hospitals are another barrier for women, Shaw said.
In one instance, she called a British Columbia hospital and was told if she had an abortion and later decided to have a baby, her cervix would have to be sewn shut and she'd be confined to bed rest for nine months so the baby wouldn't fall out.
Among other myths she heard from anti-choice organizations was that an abortion would draw her into an abusive relationship because she would subconsciously feel she deserves punishment. She was also told abortions cause drug and alcohol addictions.
A lack of funding, insufficient facilities and a lack of training are not helping to improve access to abortion services, Shaw said.
Shaw said she'll deliver a report card to every hospital based on her report. Canadians For Choice will redo the report every three years and put together a supplementary clinic report.
The organization will put together a national directory of providers
Canadians for Choice sounds like a cool organization - the work that they are doing is very important and I would love to see that directory - a great resource for women! I'm glad that someone is taking hospitals to task for their dismal treatment of women seeking abortions. Perhaps the hospitals given failing grades will be shamed into improvement!