Step 3: Denied Care? Reach Out for Support

Illustration of headset and heart in the middle.

Everyone in Canada is entitled to safe abortion services by a qualified healthcare provider. In practice not everyone has access to abortion.

While most of the time health care providers will be supportive, some of them may refuse to help. Not knowing whether your provider will help you can be stressful when you want to ask for an abortion.

Planning for what to do if you don’t get support from the nurse or doctor can help you feel more capable of asking for help. The worst that can happen is that they can say no, and you will know what to do if that’s the case. Still, having a bad experience is not great, and planning how to take care of yourself can help you feel prepared to handle whatever comes your way.

What if your doctor or nurse refuses to help?

It can happen that a healthcare provider doesn’t feel like they can do abortion because they haven’t done it before. In that case, you could leave them with the resources in this Pocket Guide so they can learn how to offer it to their patients. 

Sometimes, health care providers will refuse to do abortions because of personal and not medical reasons. It could be because their religion says it is wrong, or they feel it goes against their values. 

If the doctor or nurse practitioner starts telling you how they feel personally about abortion, they are probably not going to help. 

It is okay to not want to have a conversation with someone who is not going to help. You always have the option of walking away. 

What You Can Say

  • “If you are saying you cannot help me because of your personal beliefs, can I have a referral to someone who does provide abortion? I am still intending to get an abortion.” 
  • “I am not here to debate about my decision. Can you refer me to someone who does do abortions?”
  • “This is a very common medical procedure that I need, and I have a right to get one. If you won’t help me, that’s your choice. I am going to leave now”
  • “Thanks, bye”. 

Hand up that says Abortion is Health Care

Take Care of Yourself First 

You can prepare for the possibility of being turned away by lining up support and having a plan for what will help you to deal with being disappointed or upset. Healthcare providers are people too, and their reactions are not about you as a person. You still deserve to get the care you need. 

Here’s what you can do:

Recognize and Accept How You Feel

It’s normal to feel angry, frustrated, or ashamed. Allow yourself to have whatever reactions you’re having. 

  • If you’re feeling angry / frustrated: We all cope with intense emotions sometimes. What are ways that you usually cope with anger that work for you? For example, screaming into a pillow, ripping up paper, dancing it out, taking deep breaths.
  • If you’re feeling judged or ashamed: That nurse or doctor is not living your life. They are not the ones going through this experience. It is okay to feel good about your decision and like you’re doing the best thing for you. If you are feeling guilty or ashamed, are those your true feelings about the decision, or is that how others think you should feel? 

    It is okay if you do feel guilty or ashamed. People have lots of mixed feelings about abortion. You can talk to someone you trust, or call a helpline to get support. 

Remember the healthcare provider’s reaction is not about you. You might not be the first person they have turned away, or the last. You can always get what you need from someone else. 

Document Your Experience

Write down what happened. Include the date, names, details of what the health care provider said. Write down how you felt and what this meant for you. Writing things down will help get the emotions out of your body and process what happened. Having this in writing can also come in handy if you decide later to file a formal complaint. 

Reach Out for Support

Talk to friends, family, your therapist, a teacher, or someone else you trust about your experience. Sharing your feelings can help move through them, and sort out what matters most to you. Talking to someone who has experience with helping others through getting an abortion can be helpful. See the Resources and Helplines section below.

Practice Self and Community Care

Plan to do things that bring you comfort or help you feel nourished. For example: Having a nap, eating a favourite meal, saying a prayer or doing ceremony, treating yourself. If you were your best friend, what would you say to comfort you?

You may want to seek the company of others. This could be by being in a public space, or staying home with people who love you. It’s okay to allow others to be supportive of you.

Get Your Abortion Somewhere Else

This is not the end of the road, and you can move on to other sources of support. See Find Your Nearest Abortion Provider below in our Resources and Helplines section

How Can I Report a Bad Experience with a Healthcare Provider?

It sucks to have a negative interaction with a healthcare provider, and it is okay to take a moment to yourself. You can always report this negative interaction later if you would like to do it. If you don’t feel like you can report, you are not required to do so. 

In Canada, doctors and nurse practitioners are allowed to refuse to provide abortion care. The refusal itself is not considered wrong, so it is not something that you can report. 

In Ontario and Nova Scotia, doctors must ensure that you have access to another person who can help you. If they don’t do that, you can report it to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario or the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia

If the nurse or doctor refused to provide abortion in a way that was disrespectful, judgmental, or discriminatory, you can complain about their conduct. Every regulatory body for doctors and nurses in every province and territory has a process for making complaints. 

The following links will take you to the specific websites where you can find information about making complaints.  

Hand up that says Abortion is Health Care

Resources and Helplines

Find Your Nearest Abortion Provider

Pregnancy Options Counselling

If you are pregnant and you’re not sure yet what you’d like to do, the following organizations have phone counselling programs where you can speak with someone who can support you in making the best decision for yourself:

If you prefer to not speak with someone, these are supportive materials to explore on your own:

Abortion Doulas

Atlantic Canada 
Abortion Support Services Atlantic (ASSA)
Alberta Abortion Access Network
British Columbia  
Full Spectrum Doulas Vancouver

Aunties on the Road (for people who self-identify as indigenous)  
Ottawa Abortion Doula Collective
Toronto & Hamilton 
The Peaceful Path Full Spectrum Doulas
Les Passeuses
Saskatoon Abortion Support Network (SASN)

Northwest Territories
Northern Birthwork Collective

General Information and Support

Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights 
Access Line: Call 1-888-642-2725 or text 613-800-6757. Open everyday 9am – 9pm EST

National Abortion Federation Canada 
Hotline: 1-800-772-9100 Open Monday – Friday 8am – 7pm EST. Saturday and Sunday 8am – 4pm EST. 

These two organizations can:

  • Support you to find the abortion provider nearest to you. 
  • Help with logistics and practical needs if you must travel to get to the nearest provider. 
  • Provide emotional support before and/or after an abortion, and connect you with other services. 

This information was produced as part of the Asking for an Abortion Pocket Guide, which provides facts and tips on how to ask a healthcare professional for Mifegymiso, the drug used for medication abortions.

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The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of Health Canada.