An abortion app Zeitspace worked on with a local sexual health information and support group has provided more than 2,400 referrals since it launched nationally in June.
From June to January, Choice Connect has provided more than 2,435 referrals — most of them still in Ontario. But people from Halifax to Victoria have been using the app as well, says Robyn Schwarz, program developer at Sexual Health, Options, Resources, Education (SHORE) Centre.
“It really is coast to coast to coast,” says Schwarz. “Every time I pull these stats I see different places I haven’t seen before. So people are finding it and I think it’s making it a lot easier for people to figure out where to go.”
Timing is important for an abortion, since provinces have different rules around when women can access one. But before Choice Connect women were stuck in a maze-like system to find a doctor to provide the service. With Choice Connect, once users anonymously answer a series of questions, the app refers them to two or three abortion clinics nearby.
SHORE and Choice Connect were profiled on TVO.org as part of a three-part series that looked at access to abortion in Ontario.
Schwarz says when Choice Connect was first launched, she would cold call clinics to ask whether they wanted their information included in the app. Now, some doctors are reaching out to SHORE directly and asking to be added to the app, says Schwarz.
“That’s really exciting because just having abortion providers feel comfortable with Choice Connect is a really big step forward in terms of improving access,” she says.
One of those physicians is Dr. Jillian Demontigny, a family physician in Taber, Alberta, three hours south of Calgary.
“When I found out about the Choice Connect app, I was pretty excited because it was hard to find someone providing medical abortions outside of a main centre,” says Demontigny, whose comments are personal and don’t reflect the views of the clinic where she works.
Demontigny is the only physician listed on Choice Connect to provide abortion services south of Calgary. She says people come from long distances to access abortion services because they don’t have another choice. A few of those have come from the app, but many have come because they hear about Demontigny from others.
“So word has to get out to both doctors and women about the app,” she says. “But once it does, I think that the app’s going to be a tremendous resource.”
Medical abortions are safe and effective but it can be difficult to access the services outside of urban centres in Canada.
CBC News reported that along with distance to medical facilities that offer abortion services, funding and provincial laws are also barriers.
Last year, an Alberta politician introduced Bill 207, which would have allowed doctors to opt-out of providing abortion services or a referral based on “conscientious beliefs.” The bill, which prompted protests, failed to pass.
Though Choice Connect is helping raise awareness about where people can access abortion services in Canada, there’s still more work to do, says Demontigny.
Some physicians don’t know about the app, Demontigny says. Some that offer abortion services do, but don’t feel comfortable being listed on Choice Connect. Other physicians want to offer services for their patients but haven’t done the procedure before so they need resources and support, she says.
Demontigny says the app is simple and easy to use.
“It’s quick and it’s anonymous. I’m not a tech-savvy person and it works. I just hope to see more physicians listed on it when I log in next time,” she says.
Also making it easier? The abortion pill, Mifegymiso, which means any doctor can prescribe the medication without needing an ultrasound first.
“Just about every physician in the province is licensed to prescribe medication so we all have the power to do it,” says Demontigny.
Though Zeitspace co-designed and developed the app with SHORE Centre, the organization decided to share it with the rest of Canada in what Demontigny calls a “great gift.”
Before Choice Connect, if a Canadian medical provider couldn’t give you abortion, you had to call around, says Schwarz, and that wasn’t a great experience for patients.
“The response to Choice Connect has been positive because the referral process was so confusing before and now doctors know they don’t have to do anything to get patients the right referral,” says Schwarz.
Planned Parenthood in the U.S. has developed a similar app, called the Abortion Care Finder.