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Passing the torch to a new generation of abortion providers

Maureen Aslin

March 27, 2014

The last 12 months have seen the passing of three well known abortion providers in Canada; Dr. Henry Morgentaler age 90, Dr. Garson Romalis age 76, and Dr. Jack Fainman age 82.  Dr. Morgentaler is famous for his legal struggles to establish abortion rights in Canada.  Both Dr. Romalis and Dr. Fainman survived being shot by snipers in the late 1990s.
These men were motivated by their internships in large urban hospitals to make abortions available in their practices.  It was here that they each witnessed the suffering and deaths of women who were not able to access legal and safe abortions.  All these doctors cited the need to prevent the suffering of women as a primary motivation to do their work. With the passing of this generation the question emerges of who will step in and offer these services.
According to the University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine: “Abortion services are fully covered in Ontario, but wait times are long (up to 6 weeks in Ottawa). Only one in six hospitals in Canada offers abortions. There is a looming shortage of doctors willing to provide the service; many are approaching retirement and younger MDs are not replacing them, some out of fear of harassment and others because they have not witnessed the dangers of unsafe abortions.”
Missing from this list of reasons for a shortage of practitioners is the near absence of clinical training in medical schools in the actual procedure. Only this past year at the University of Toronto has the curriculum expanded beyond an ethics lecture on abortion. Clinical training is done in private training institutes, such as those organized annually by Medical Students for Choice. The result is that MD’s are missing information about an essential aspect of reproductive health.
Abortion is a federally mandated healthcare procedure but it is not being taught in publically funded institutions.  Access to abortion varies depending upon the province or rural versus urban locations and federal mandates are not being enforced by the Harper government. In response medical students are putting pressure on medical schools to include abortion training in their education so they can provide the full reproductive health services that women want and need.

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