Oppression (on the basis of class, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, and a whole host of other factors) is one of the most prominent underlying reasons why I see patients in the hospital. That may seem like a wildly unfounded statement to some nurses. There are nurses who would argue with me, and would say that diseases and risk factors and lifestyle choices are what bring most people into the hospital. They’re entitled to that thinking, but in my experience it is almost always marginalization and structural violence that brings people into the hospital in one way or another. Especially in New Brunswick, where most people have no money. And especially for New Brunswick women, who usually have even less money and limited access to services when compared to other areas. I meet people who are in the hospital because they have a specific disease—sure—but what led to their hospitalization is also that they don’t currently have enough money to feed, clothe, and house themselves all at the same time. Or that they have experienced gender-based violence. The list of contributing factors goes on.
A nurse researcher named Elizabeth McGibbon (2012) calls oppression “the causes of the causes” in her book Oppression: A Social Determinant of Health. I take her to mean, here, that oppression is what underwrites the causes of the health problems we see so frequently as nurses. This is not to say, of course, that we can always trace a simple trajectory from racism, sexism, cissexism, and all of the other harmful -isms to cancer and other diseases. I am saying, though, that if tracked back far enough oppression can be often be found at the root of too many issues. I am also saying that the daily assaults that so often make up oppression wear on people’s body, and while it may not be the name of the disease that makes them sick it is the cause of the cause of the cause of the cause of that disease. It’s in there somewhere, whether it be inadequate access to food that contributes to poor diabetes control or gender-based violence that factors into the development of heart disease for women. Oppression wears on the body. The daily struggle for food wears on the body if there just isn’t enough to go around—this struggle makes it harder and harder to stay well. The daily cat-calls, slut-shaming, airbrushed media portrayals, and underpayment for services wears on women’s bodies—makes it harder and harder to stay well as a woman in this province.
And so this is a plea for abortion access in New Brunswick, from a nursing student who is tired of putting band-aids on structural problems. The evidence exists that can help us understand how lack of access is rooted in oppression, and how that lack of access will lead to admissions to the hospital for people who have tried to self-abort. But this is not just a plea for those humans who will need abortions once the Morgentaler clinic closes. It is also plea for those of us who may never even end up pregnant, on whom the daily assault on our ability to decide for ourselves what to do with our bodies wears so heavily. An assault on choice wears on women’s bodies, and it just one of the many aspects of oppression that is making us sick in New Brunswick.
Yours in struggle,