Only 2 in 10 women say they're very knowledgeable about abortion options: survey
A survey shows there is some confusion about the options available in Canada to terminate a pregnancy. Pictured here, protesters for abortion make their way through the downtown core to Parliament Hill, Thursday, May 11, 2023 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
As millions of women in the United States find themselves deprived of abortion services since Roe v Wade was overturned last year, a new survey suggests that most of women here (62 per cent) are now concerned about their reproductive rights in Canada.
But the poll, conducted by Ipsos and commissioned by Linepharma, also revealed that while more than eight in 10 Canadian women strongly advocate for choice and access to abortion options, fewer than two in 10 say they are very knowledgeable about their abortion options.
That second point raises concerns for Montreal family doctor Marc Steben, who specializes in public and sexual health.
"I think that abortion is part of sexual rights and sexual care. And I felt the results were important enough that I would be associated in some way with this poll that brings important facts about what's happening in Canada," he said in an interview with CTV News.
It seems to him "there's a big lack of information about the availability of abortion in Canada," he said, so that women can make appropriate decisions should they ever choose to consider options to terminate a pregnancy.
It's the shortage of accurate information that worries him most since so many today turn to social media and unverified websites for advice.
"There's disinformation and misinformation, but also there's a lot of shaming and false information, a lot of criticism of women," which he said only serves to add to the intense stress of the situation.
In Quebec, a person can call Info-Sante at 811 to get guidance if they don't have access to a doctor or nurse practitioner, and they can also speak to their pharmacist. Most pharmacists now have special training and can dispense the medication required after a thorough consultation.
"We know that having an abortion is an intimate issue. Some people don't want to share their medical issues about abortion. There's a lot of stigmas," Steben said.
"And, of course, all this falls on the shoulders of women. 'You should have done this. You should have known.' We never talk to boys or men about having intercourse with a woman and getting them pregnant," he added.
The head of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada indicated in a statement released with the survey that she was also startled by all the confusion out there.
"With medication and surgical options for the termination of pregnancy available to women in Canada, and the ongoing attention on abortion access in the U.S.," Dr. Diane Francoeur said, "it is surprising that awareness and understanding around reproductive health continues to remain low as the survey suggests."
"It is essential that women know their options and can make an informed choice," she said.
SURGICAL OR MEDICATION
Abortion is often performed in an operating room or other sterile setting, as a surgical procedure.
Today, there are medication abortions, done with pills that can be taken at home, that provide women with an alternative to surgical abortion.
"Medical abortion is a combination of two medications," Steben explained.
The first medication blocks the effects of progesterone, a hormone needed to continue the pregnancy.
"After that, there's a drug that provokes cramping of the uterus," Steben said.
The poll also showed that four in 10 women are not sure about the difference between what is sometimes referred to as the "morning after" pill and medication abortion, and that two in 10 falsely believed they were the same thing.
Steben said he prefers to use the phrase emergency contraception when speaking about what's commonly called the "morning after" pill because it's more accurate.
"It can be taken up to five days after intercourse to prevent the pregnancy. Some women have a false impression that if it is more than 24 hours, they can't have it," he explained.
According to a Quebec health ministry website, the pill works "by stopping or delaying ovulation. It doesn't have any effect if you are already pregnant. If it has been more than five days since you had unprotected sex, other solutions are available," it reads.
"We have to be educating our young people about sexual rights and sexual health. Some of the young people don't know about the extensive time it took for abortion to be provided to Canadians," said Steben.
He suggests some may consider the issue to be closed, never to be challenged, but said that's not so.
"It's constantly challenged in court, and we have to cherish that we have the availability and the choice of abortion in Quebec and the rest of Canada," said Steben.
The survey was commissioned by Linepharma International and conducted by IPSOS.
It polled 1,139 Canadian women aged 16 to 50 between Oct. 21 and Nov. 4, 2022, and is considered to be accurate to within ±3.3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20 had all Canadian women aged 16-50 been surveyed.