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Canadian Medical Students Take Abortion Education Into Their Own Hands

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By Sara Contreras, MSFC Student Organizer

After the 2017 Conference on Family Planning in Philadelphia, I received an email from one of my Canadian students, Stephanie. In the email she said what an amazing time that she had but how she wished there would be a space for the Canadian students to have a conference all their own. Out of the 419 students who attended our conference that year, 42 of them came from Canada. Although the sessions and the skills workshops are applicable anywhere, all of our providers came in with a U.S. perspective on abortion which is vastly different than in Canada.

In Canada, abortion is not in the criminal code. It is one of the only countries in the world not to. That means all of the TRAP laws, abortion restrictions, and term limit laws that are being passed in droves in the U.S. can’t happen in Canada. However, Canada shares our provider crisis. Most providers are centered in urban centers leaving the rural areas neglected when it comes to abortion care. There is a mandatory ultrasound restriction for providers to prescribe Mifegymiso (the Canadian brand name for the two medications used for medical abortion), severely limiting access considering most clinics do not have ultrasound machines on-site. The lack of providers in rural areas largely affects First Nations women who cannot obtain abortion care, especially since Mifegymiso has only been recently been approved in Canada.

Our Canadian students saw a need for abortion training so they could provide quality care to their patients, no matter where they are located. It took almost a year of planning with the students from Northern Ontario School of Medicine and the University of Ottawa, which hosted the event. Together these students did a tremendous amount of work and preparation: what sessions to have, how to recruit attendees, how to feed everyone, and make it affordable. The end result was a daylong conference that filled up well before the registration deadline.

In the end 60 students registered for the Canadian Symposium on Family Planning, with 10 on the waiting list. On Saturday January 12th, 2019, 60 students attended sessions on values clarification, abortion in Canada, medical and surgical abortions, abortion and mental health, hands-on training workshops, and so much more. The students started the day off with their values clarification session which asked them to dig into how they felt about a variety of topics that happen when providing abortions. They debated, asked questions, and listened to each other; that pattern carried on for the rest of the day. The providers that facilitated the sessions were insightful and truly opened the minds of the students.

Three students brought posters of their research to share with those attending the Symposium. A student from U British Columbia’s Northern Medical Program presented preliminary research about family planning services in northern British Columbia. Another student from U British Columbia presented about “Challenges in Offering STI Screening Among Northern BC Indigenous Communities”. The student from U Toronto presented about the PREVENT project protocol that uses technology to provide contraceptive counselling to those who lack access to contraception. Each of these students has been working on unique ways to understand and address reproductive health disparities in their communities. The Symposium created an opportunity for them to share their research with a group of people equally excited about progressing family planning priorities in Canada.                

As the Symposium came to a close and everyone was winding down from their sessions and talking, it was evident that it was a day well spent for all. Providing these opportunities for our chapters is what makes MSFC great because we work to enrich the education and medical school experiences of each of our members. I feel optimistic about the future of abortion in Canada and in the capable hands of these 60 motivated students.

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