Ontario Midwives’ Attitudes About Abortion and Abortion Provision

Manavi Handa, RM, MHSc, and Simone Rosenberg, RM

Objective: In Ontario and across Canada, midwives do not provide pregnancy termination but provide referrals and support for clients. This differs from a number of international jurisdictions where abortion has been added to the midwifery scope of practice, resulting in safe outcomes for women and improved access to services. This study sought to survey Ontario midwives’ general attitudes towards abortion and willingness to incorporate abortion into the midwifery scope of practice. Ethics approval for the study was obtained from the Ryerson University Research Ethics Board.
Methods: An Internet-based cross-sectional survey was sent to all registered midwives in Ontario via the Association of Ontario Midwives. The survey consisted of seven sections, with a total of 43 Likert scale questions, 17 general questions, and space for open-ended comments at the end of each section. Comments were coded and analyzed for common themes.
Results: The survey was distributed to 523 midwives, all of the midwives registered in Ontario at the time of the study (2011). A total of 359 midwives participated, representing a response rate of 68% of all registered midwives in Ontario. The majority of respondents identified themselves as pro-choice; however, there were “limits to choice” expressed by many participants. Abortion was considered less acceptable at later gestations or for specific reasons such as gender selection or minor fetal anomalies. Study participants were divided over whether abortion should be added to midwifery scope of practice. Comfort with providing abortion services decreased as procedures were perceived to be more invasive or as requiring more medical expertise. The addition of misoprostol to Ontario midwives’ pharmacopoeia for early medical terminations was the most favoured expansion for midwifery scope of practice. Respondents were less willing to add surgical techniques to midwifery scope of practice. Midwives identified the current models of compensation and practice in Ontario, issues related to hospital integration, and opposition from clients as significant barriers to the provision of abortion services. Limited education about abortion during midwifery training and the desire for more learning opportunities were additional themes that emerged in this study.
Conclusion: This is the first study in Canada about midwives’ attitudes towards abortion and the inclusion of abortion within midwifery scope of practice. Further research in other Canadian jurisdictions would be useful to examine systemic issues, barriers, and attitudes at a national level. For abortion to be included within the scope of practice of Ontario midwives, issues related to the current model of care, compensation, and supplemental education would need to be addressed.

abortion, therapeutic abortion, attitudes, midwifery

This article has been peer reviewed.


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