Nurses are Key Members of the Abortion Care Team: Why aren’t Schools of Nursing Teaching Abortion Care?


  • Martha Paynter Dalhousie University School of Nursing
  • Dr. Wendy Norman University of British Columbia
  • Dr. Ruth Martin-Misener Dalhousie University School of Nursing



Abortion, Canada, Nursing Education, Feminist Analysis, Access


Abortion is a common and safe procedure in Canada, with the Canadian Institute for Health Information reporting approximately 100,000 procedures per year. Yet access remains problematic. As abortion is unrestricted by criminal law in Canada, access is limited by geographic barriers and by a shortage of providers. We present a feminist critical lens to describe how the marginalization of nursing and nurses in abortion care contributes to social stigma and public misunderstanding about abortion access. The roles of registered nurses and nurse practitioners in abortion advocacy, service navigation, counselling, education, support, physiological care and follow up are underutilized and under-researched. In 2015, decades after its availability elsewhere in the world, Health Canada approved mifepristone (a pill for medical abortion). In 2017, provincial regulators began to authorize nurse practitioners to independently provide medical abortion care, as appropriate given the inclusion in nurse practitioner scope of practice to order diagnostic tests, make diagnoses, and treat health conditions. Ensuring nurse practitioners are able to practice medical abortion has the potential to significantly increase abortion access for rural, remote and other marginalized populations. There is also an opportunity to optimize the registered nurse role in abortion care. However, achieving these improvements is challenging as abortion is not routinely taught in Canadian Schools of Nursing. We argue that to destigmatize abortion and improve access, undergraduate nursing and nurse practitioner programs across the country must begin to include abortion and family planning competencies.


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Author Biographies

Martha Paynter, Dalhousie University School of Nursing

Martha Paynter is a registered nurse providing abortion and postpartum care. She is a Doctoral Candidate in Nursing at Dalhousie University. She is the founder and coordinator of Women’s Wellness Within, a non-profit organization supporting criminalized women and transgender/nonbinary individuals in the perinatal period in carceral institutions and the community. She works  to advance reproductive justice through advocacy, collaboration and nursing scholarship.



Dr. Wendy Norman, University of British Columbia

CIHR-PHAC Chair, Family Planning

Dr. Ruth Martin-Misener, Dalhousie University School of Nursing

Director and Professor


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How to Cite

Paynter, M., Norman, W. V., & Martin-Misener, R. (2019). Nurses are Key Members of the Abortion Care Team: Why aren’t Schools of Nursing Teaching Abortion Care?. Witness: The Canadian Journal of Critical Nursing Discourse, 1(2), 17–29.