I had the privilege of attending the NSRH’s 6th annual activist conference, this year called “Nurses at the Forefront for Change.” I was a little worried about attending. I did not know anyone there and my background is strictly in adult, acute care. I have always joked that I knew nothing about birthing babies, or any part of that process. I was wrong and it was an amazing experience. As a human being and a nurse educator, the conference cemented how important sexual health education and rights are.
Many healthcare professionals are concerned with policy challenges impacting public health. The conference did not waste time going into why right now is such an important time to be an activist. The current administration’s supposed plan to block title X funding will have detrimental effects across the country, particularly for vulnerable populations in the Southeast. The southeastern states boast higher rates of unplanned pregnancy and some of the worse maternal mortality outcomes in the nation. Many STDs are on the rise. Women are going to die because of this administration’s policies.
Centers, such as Emory’s Center for Reproductive Heath Research, in the Southeast have research, translation, and education aims to try and navigate through the public funding reproductive rights landscape. As many know, Title X is not “abortion funding”. The Hyde Amendment prohibits federally funded abortions. Title X funds go to comprehensive care and family planning. An estimated 1/3 of low income women have received birth control from a Title X-funded center. The biggest concern is what the administration will do with Title X funds. One potential is that they will be sent to predatory crisis pregnancy centers. Crisis pregnancy centers present the false impression that they can give women medical care. Most have policies against contraception outside of natural family planning. They are not well regulated and I heard anecdotal stories at my table of these centers telling women that were 6 weeks pregnant the gender of their unplanned pregnancy in an attempt to get them not to abort.
Throughout what could be described as doom and gloom stories about what happens next, there was hope. Many brave women demonstrated the research they were currently working on involving education and promoting reproductive health. Several researchers were working on abortion stigma reducing-programs with varying degrees of success. One speaker gave a particularly inspiring talk on translating harm reduction strategies into the reproductive health world. Self managed abortion may be a more autonomous, affordable option for some women. The conference managed a tone of inclusivity and had several individual sessions promoting this.
The overall message of the conference was how nurses need to act as activists and advocates for our patients. Our patients are not just those we care for in the clinical setting, but also in our communities. We have 3.5 million RNs in the US. We have power. While we have been socialized to not make trouble, we are also the ones who fix problems. In order to fix this problem, we can’t be the demure angels in white. We must “cause trouble and make people uncomfortable”. This can be accomplished by advocating for a better scope of practice laws. States that give AP nurses more scope are associated with better health outcomes. Adding sexual and reproductive health education and rights to curriculums is needed across the spectrum from maternal to geriatric care. We need to serve on committees, join professional organizations, run for office, and make our powerful voices heard.
Abortion access is a public health issue. We must have a wider lens and look at this as the long term situation it is. We are playing chess not checkers. We are ethically obligated to our patients and communities and must be at the forefront of change.
Amanda Chapman Howard, MSN, RN is a nursing instructor, ICU nurse, and currently a PhD student planning on researching the beliefs and barriers of rural Americans after suffering a stroke. She is passionate about social justice, human rights, and healthcare access for all.