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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Abortion nursing in Canada : 1960s to 1990s Haney, Catherine Margaret


In this dissertation I investigate, interpret, and make visible the heretofore under-examined histories of Registered Nurses and their roles in developing Canadian abortion services. Often neglected in the dominant narratives of abortion, women’s health, and nursing history, this examination of the hands-on work of abortion clinic nurses is significant. It reveals that nurses were key actors in the complex development of abortion services and of abortion nursing. It demonstrates that nurses created and negotiated their abortion work in the face of multiple intersecting social and professional contexts, including the state’s shifting regulation of abortion, under-developed clinical facilities and practices, inter- and intra-disciplinary collaborations and tensions, and broader cultural attitudes toward abortion and its provision (both supportive and resistant). Through their work, I suggest, abortion clinic nurses supported the decriminalization of abortion, the development and provision of socially and medically safe practices, pro-choice political activism, the management of anti-abortion activism, and the overall development of abortion nursing. These findings arose from my examination of nurses’ work in establishing, developing, and defending freestanding (i.e., out-of-hospital) abortion clinics in Montreal, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver from the mid-1960s to 1999. The analysis was conducted through the methodological lens of oral history supported by the tools of social and cultural historical inquiry and science and technology studies. It was informed by an overarching critical feminist perspective. I conducted eight semi-structured oral history interviews with retired and practicing Registered Nurses who worked in the field of abortion, and I supplemented those interviews with archival sources and documents. Overall, this analysis demonstrates that nurses made these contributions by creating and undertaking new abortion work, confronting and managing multiple challenges, and continuing to push forward owing to a fundamental professional commitment to helping women have safe abortions through the promotion of women’s bodily safety and emotional wellbeing. This dissertation thus increases and nuances collective understanding of important aspects of the previously unexplored histories of nurses and their roles in developing Canadian abortion services in the latter half of the twentieth century.

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