Editor's Note: This article is being updated with new information as it becomes available.
On Sept. 1, the Texas abortion law SB8 went into effect. The law was met with backlash from the healthcare community and beyond. Nurses are concerned for the safety of their patients and those seeking healthcare. Nurses also fear being sued or losing their license because the law allows private citizens to report anyone helping a woman get an abortion.
"The implementation of SB8 will undoubtedly increase the maternal mortality rate for Texas, which is already one of the most deadly states in the U.S. for pregnant women," says Lauren Haines, a board-certified family nurse practitioner providing sexual health services.
Many nurses and nursing organizations believe the Texas abortion law denies women who are entitled to reproductive services.
This article covers which healthcare organizations and companies are speaking out against SB8, what SB8 means for women's health and healthcare providers, and how nurses can help patients affected by the law.
What's Happening With SB8, or the "Heartbeat Bill"
Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed SB8, which bans abortions at six weeks. Six weeks is about the time when women find out they are pregnant. Six weeks is also when providers can detect a heartbeat, hence the name "Heartbeat Bill."
While patients cannot be sued for having an abortion, providers and anyone who aids with transportation and financial assistance can be sued by private citizens.
A key point of contention is how the law makes no exceptions for sexual assault, incest, or rape. The only exception to the Heartbeat Bill is medical emergencies such as the mother's life being in danger.
This law is one of the strictest abortion bans in the United States. Although the Justice Department is suing Texas to block the law, SB8 is designed to make it harder to fight in the courts.
On Oct 8, after a brief halt by federal judge Robert L. Pitman, Texas abortion law Senate Bill 8 (SB8) was reinstated after The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied the federal court ruling. The Department of Justice had until Oct 12th to reply to the ruling.
After petitioning the courts, abortion providers are hoping the case will be reviewed by the Supreme Court. The justices have turned down their requests in the interim. In the meantime, abortion providers and nurses are not performing abortions for fear of being sued.
SB8 affects thousands of women, especially those in lower socioeconomic groups and women of color.
"Making abortion illegal will restrict access to high-quality medical care and prevent women from obtaining comprehensive care from trained medical professionals," says Haines.
Because abortions in Texas will now be illegal and subject to criminal penalties, it will be even more difficult for women to have a safe abortion.
Healthcare Organizations and Companies Are Speaking Against SB8
Texas Nurses Association responded by warning that the law puts nurses and providers in an unfavorable position.
"We think [the law] creates risk for nurses. We don't think it's good for Texans, and it's certainly not good for nurses and their relationships with patients," states Texas Nurses Association CEO Cindy Zolnierek.
A statement written by Jill Furillo, executive director of the New York State Nurses Association, highlights that 1.2 million women had illegal abortions each year before the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. These procedures usually took place outside of hospitals in unsanitary conditions. Women not only suffered from hemorrhage, but procedures were also painful due to lack of anesthesia.
Denying women the right to seek abortions does not prevent abortions from happening; instead, it increases the rates of unsafe, life-threatening, or illegal abortions from taking place.
Healthcare organizations, senators, and companies are speaking out against SB8.
- The American Medical Association is "deeply disturbed" by the law and the U.S. Supreme Court for allowing the law to take effect.
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a statement of clear opposition to SB8. The statement denounces the law, stating it is a "clear attack on the practice of medicine in our country and on decades of established legal precedent." The statement says the law is a "pathway for litigation to be used as intimidation" and that providers should be able to provide "patient-centered, evidence-based care and counsel, and patients should be able to access the care and information they need without fear of retribution."
- Senator Patty Murray, chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, created a list on what needs to happen now that the Supreme Court denied blocking SB8.
- Companies like Match, Bubble, Uber, Lyft, and GoDaddy all made public statements against the abortion law. CEOs of Match and Bubble are creating funds for Texas employees affected by the law. Uber and Lyft promise to pay legal fees for drivers who may be sued.
What SB8 Means for Women's Health and Healthcare Providers
Though the future is uncertain, SB8 affects women, healthcare providers, and the overall healthcare system inside Texas and beyond.
How SB8 Impacts Women Seeking Abortions
A lot is at stake for women seeking abortions in Texas. The new law creates a dangerous situation for pregnant women, and Haines explains how this law will take away women's right to bodily autonomy. Instead, they will be subject to invasive exams and unpleasant pregnancy symptoms.
"[SB8] may lead women and adolescents to think of ways to end their pregnancy on their own terms," Haines says.
SB8 may also affect Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, Inc. updated its website to provide information and resources for women seeking abortions after Sept. 1. But since most abortion providers work at Planned Parenthood, SB8 may lead to states losing other services that Planned Parenthood provides, including safe sex education and contraception.
Haines fears if more states ban abortions, we will see an increase in unintended pregnancies and "abortion rate[s] in the U.S. will begin to rise for the first time since the 1970s steadily."
Women of different socioeconomic backgrounds and women of color will be affected the most. While wealthier women can leave the state to seek safe abortions elsewhere, women without this priviledge will have to navigate stricter hurdles for an abortion.
How SB8 Impacts Nurses Providing Care
SB8, in combination with COVID-19 and nurse burnout, will directly affect nurses and healthcare providers in Texas. Texas is already on track to have one of the most significant nursing shortages in the U.S. by 2030.
"With the creation of SB8, these over-stretched healthcare providers now have to worry about being sued for performing their jobs," says Haines.
The law creates an atmosphere where nurses and other medical professionals may choose not to pursue a career in healthcare. Restrictive healthcare laws will only worsen the nursing shortage and put patients at risk.
However, SB8 may increase telehealth services. Haines sees this as a viable option for women who may feel unsafe seeking care in person. She anticipates underground networks helping women to get safe abortions and receive reproductive health.
How Can Nurses Get Involved to Help Patients Affected by SB8?
Nurses should not feel helpless when it comes to SB8. There are ways nurses can help, including:
- Call and write state legislatures
- Donate to organizations fighting SB8
- Donate to organizations trying to improve abortion access
- Contact companies to speak up against the bill
- Use social media to vocalize opposition as a healthcare provider
Preventative care is the best way to decrease the number of abortions in the U.S. Schools need to teach sex education, and birth control needs to be readily available. Although SB8 is currently in effect, other states are leading in women's health.
Oregon's House Bill 2879 allows pharmacists to provide birth control, including the patch, without a medical prescription to women over 18. Women in California can get birth control from a pharmacist. Lastly, in New York, former Governor Cuomo signed legislation making pregnancy a qualifying event, and women can opt into health insurance outside open enrollment.
The future remains uncertain for women's reproductive health and safety, but nurses hold a unique position to speak out against threats to women's health and protect patients seeking care.
Meet Our Contributor
Lauren Haines, MSN, APRN, FNP-BC, is a board-certified family nurse practitioner providing sexual health services for TBD Health. She has a bachelor's in nursing from the University of Connecticut, a master's degree, and FNP certification. Haines has experience as an emergency room nurse and sexual assault nurse examiner. She has worked in primary care, reproductive health, telehealth, and nursing education.
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