Shannon Hardy, founder of Abortion Support Services Atlantic, says stigma remains one of the biggest challenges facing women seeking an abortion.
SHANNON HARDY ISN’T AFRAID OF THE “A-WORD.” She believes saying the word abortion out loud, and often, is necessary to making a woman’s right to choose as normal, natural and acceptable as any other right. That’s not the way it is right now, she says.
Abortion is legal in Canada. Yet, barriers remain, says Shannon, like a patchwork of provincial laws, doctors who still oppose providing abortion services and the powerful social stigma still attached to actually having an abortion.
A ‘full-spectrum’ doula
In 2012, Shannon was working as a birth doula in Halifax, Nova Scotia when she discovered women seeking abortions in Prince Edward Island had to trek to Nova Scotia or New Brunswick—and pay for their travel expenses out of pocket. If they couldn’t afford it, they couldn’t get an abortion.
“That kind of blew my mind,” she said. “I can’t imagine forcing someone to give birth.”
Shannon decided to do something about the fact that women could face limited access to abortion. She turned herself into a “full-spectrum” doula, and founded Abortion Support Services Atlantic to help women in all stages of reproduction, including abortions.
Shannon says her work as a volunteer abortion doula involves providing transportation for appointments, helping people find lodging, raising funds for travel and offering emotional support.
To tell or not to tell
The abortion doulas don’t simply disappear after an abortion, but can help women talk through their decision and choose how they’ll tell—or not tell—their loved ones about the procedure.
“That’s why we’re here,” says Shannon. “Because when people don’t have that opportunity, then it sort of stays with you. And you feel like — maybe I did do something wrong, because nobody wanted to talk about it.”
Shannon says there is at least one volunteer abortion doula working in each province. The network of volunteers is growing, she says.
Shannon openly advertises her services on Facebook and never shies away from talking about her work. It’s all part of her campaign to combat the stigma that still goes with having an abortion.
A major aim of the “trauma-informed abortion doula training” Shannon provides is to eliminate the perception that the abortion procedure itself is traumatic. “I let people know that we don’t believe abortion is in and of itself traumatic,” she says.
“What we believe is that these systems—all the hoops and hurdles we have to go through—those are the things that make it traumatic.”
Removing the stigma
Removing the stigma is huge and liberating, says Shanon. She tells of the time they helped a woman access an abortion and were scheduled to give her a ride home after the procedure. On the day, the woman texted Shannon and said, “You don’t need to come. My sister is coming. Because you were so open and wonderful, I felt safe to talk to her.”
“That’s what we do,” says Shannon. “And again just putting the name in our title —we aren’t going to hide the fact that this is what we do.”
Shannon admits that, on the one hand, anti-abortion voices seem to be ever-present and as willing as ever to be public about it. But, on the other hand, the fact they are so brazen and public can help pro-choice advocates better identify and counter those who are against them.
“They’re coming out of the woodwork,” she says, recalling Ontario MPP Steve Oosterhoff’s May 2019 pledge to make abortion “unthinkable.” “It all helps us know who to vote out of office,” she says. Oosterhoff was met with vehement pro-choice protest.
‘Your abortion does not make you immoral’
Getting an abortion in Canada—and talking about it—is not easy. But we are a long way from the situation in the USA. Shannon tells the story of a Canadian doula she knows who went to a pro-choice meeting in the USA protected by armed guards. The doulas were warned not to wear identifying badges outside the meeting and not to talk about what they were doing inside.
“It was pretty scary,” says Shannon. “You go to an abortion conference and there’s somebody standing there with a machine gun.
But that is not Canada. Women like Shannon Hardy will see that it never is. They will come out into the light and tell their stories. The Nation magazine writer Moira Donegan says there is no better way to combat such “a pervasive and baseless stigma.”
“How else do you convey that your abortion does not make you immoral or stupid or frivolous, other than by asserting that it is part and parcel of your whole self, a self that displays its own virtues—your moral commitments, your responsibility, your intellect?”
- 30 -