The potential overturning of the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is impacting people on both sides of the border. If the decision is reversed by the nation’s highest court, safe and legal abortion access will end in 13 states overnight, erasing 49 years of rights for women, trans* and non-binary people.
T.K. Pritchard, executive director at the SHORE Centre, emphasized that while medical and surgical abortions may be legal in Canada, they are not always easily accessible.
SHORE Centre is continuing to help Canadians access abortions with Choice Connect, a website that helps people looking for abortion services find a provider for medical or surgical abortions. Clinics provide their services and other information to the SHORE Centre team, which manages the website’s back end. On the client side, people seeking help provide anonymous details through a simple form that returns options for consultations or contact information for the closest provider.
The Choice Connect project was developed by local design and development shop Zeitspace as part of their commitment to support charitable and non-profit organisations in Waterloo Region.
Mark Connolly, a partner at Zeitspace, said the project got started with an introduction to Lyndsey Butcher, a former executive director at SHORE Centre.
“People often pay attention to what is happening in the U.S. and not what’s happening in Canada. We still have significant access issues, but because it’s been legalized, because you’re not seeing those type of court challenges around abortion access, people tend to think everything is fine,” Pritchard said.
“But the reality is, when you actually try to access an abortion here, as well as other forms of reproductive health care, you often face many barriers,” he said.
SHORE Centre was founded in 1972 as Planned Parenthood Kitchener-Waterloo. The centre is dedicated to providing inclusive sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion, for everyone in Waterloo Region.
While SHORE Centre does not offer surgical abortions, they do provide medical abortion services where medication is used to end a pregnancy.
In Waterloo Region, people can only access surgical abortion for up to 14 weeks at local health care providers and then have to seek medical treatment outside the region.
The period can be shorter if the hospital deems itself unable to support the patient. When a person needs a surgical abortion after 14 weeks, SHORE Centre assists them with services at clinics in London or the Toronto area.
Being able to access those services requires access to transportation, financial stability and the ability to take extra time off work.
Many people still feel a significant social stigma around abortion, even though it has been legal in Canada since 1988.
“We do a lot of safety planning with people on navigating around those issues of stigma and shame associated with it, which in itself is a barrier to abortion,” Pritchard said.
Accessing abortion outside of major city centres also continues to be an issue. People in rural communities seeking abortion services often have excessively long drives or must travel by air to get to a clinic.
Pritchard said that SHORE Centre staff coordinate with their national partners to arrange transportation, hotels and other assistance. SHORE Centre is also working to address the lack of medical abortion providers across Ontario.
“There’s huge portions of Ontario that don’t have anyone doing medication abortion. We have a project looking at trying to enhance that. We have a lot of people reaching out to us for medication abortion because there’s just no one in their area doing it,” Pritchard said.
“We agreed first to design and build a prototype of a solution and then subsequently to build the whole solution for them for no cost,” Connolly said.
Choice Connect initially offered information on clinics and providers in Waterloo Region and has since expanded to providing support nationwide. Peter Spenler, a software developer at Zeitspace, recently added a new feature to support listing virtual clinic information in Choice Connect.
SHORE Centre wanted to ensure that the information provided to people seeking help was accurate—clinics send their information via email and SHORE Centre manages adding their information to the Choice Connect database.
Spenler and fellow software developer Jackson Nöel added another feature to provide a preview of clinic information for the clinic’s staff.
Pritchard said the site is making a difference in the lives of people across the country seeking accurate and timely service information about clinics.
“Sometimes clinics don’t have their information listed publicly or it’s difficult to find. Choice Connect is an easy way for people to go in, find a provider, learn a little bit about them and see if that’s going to be a good fit their needs,” Pritchard said.
This year also marks SHORE Centre’s 50th anniversary, and Pritchard said it’s more crucial than ever to help get the message out about abortion accessibility issues.
“We always appreciate people supporting the organisation financially, but it’s important to really work to amplify the message on social media and have conversations with people in your life around reproductive rights and reproductive justice,” Pritchard said. “One of the ways that we’re going to decrease that stigma is by having more honest and open conversations with people in our lives about reproductive health care.”