What’s Choice Got to Do With It? An Institutional Ethnography of Abortion Access in New Brunswick, Canada

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Authors
O'Leary, Maria Carroll
Keyword
Reproductive justice , Abortion , Public Health , Health Policy , Abortion Access Canada , Institutional Ethonography , Gender Studies , New Brunsiwck , Colonization , Slavery , Ableism , Forced Steralization
Abstract
This dissertation examines the path of access to abortion services in the province of New Brunswick, Canada. Using Dorothy Smith’s institutional ethnography as my method of inquiry, I examine the disjuncture between the New Brunswick provincial government’s claims that abortion is accessible and abortion seekers’ claims that abortion is difficult to access and, at times, inaccessible. Starting from the standpoint of women accessing or attempting to access abortion in the province, I use semi-structured interviews and textual analysis to trace how women’s experiences of accessing abortion connect back to legal and medical texts that frame abortion access as a matter of personal choice. Through my research, I examine how the dominant and problematic discourse of choice emerged in the 1900s. The discourse of choice creates the misconception that having the choice of an abortion is having autonomy over one’s reproduction. However, marginalized women have had limited choice over their reproduction, due to long histories of colonization, slavery, ableism and forced sterilization. Control of women’s reproduction continues today through contraceptive counselling, family planning and pregnancy surveillance. By examining the textually mediated ruling relations that work to socially organize both abortion seekers and abortion providers, I demonstrate how abortion access has never been a matter of choice. I conclude by providing recommendations for how the Canadian government can better provide all women with autonomy over their reproduction through the combination of liberty and security of the person as outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I advocate for using a reproductive justice approach to abortion access to ensure all women, regardless of race, class, ability, and socioeconomic status, have full bodily autonomy.
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