Roe v. Wade Supreme Court Draft Rouses Nurses
Editor's Note: This article is being updated with new information as it becomes available.
On May 11, the Women's Health Protection Act, a bill aimed to protect the right to abortion, failed to pass the Senate vote. Though unsurprising, this comes as a devastation to nurses and healthcare providers striving to protect patient's right to abortion care.
Because the bill was expected to fail, it serves as a representation of where senators stand on abortion rights. All Democrats voted for the legalization except Sen. Joe Manchin. All Republicans opposed the bill.
Immediately following the vote, President Joe Biden spoke against the decision, saying it "runs counter to the will of the majority of American people."
"We will continue to defend women's constitutional rights to make private reproductive choices as recognized in Roe v. Wade nearly half a century ago, and my Administration will continue to explore the measures and tools at our disposal to do just that," Biden said.
Nurses and healthcare providers can work to protect access to abortion care by speaking out against the threat to abortion rights and contacting state senators.
- An initial draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito was leaked by Politico.
- The draft supports the overturn of Roe v. Wade, the case that made abortion federally legal in the U.S. in 1973.
- If Roe v. Wade is overturned, the federal government won't decide if abortion is legal or not. The decision will be left up to states.
- A final decision won't be known until summer.
- Many are taking to the streets on May 14 for the nationwide "Bans Off Our Bodies" rally organized by Planned Parenthood and other reproductive rights organizations.
Nurses, patients, and healthcare providers remain in waiting as historic Roe v. Wade protections face potential undoing. Earlier this week, an opinion draft was leaked by Politico with a handful of votes from Supreme Court justices supporting the overturn of Roe v. Wade.
The initial draft was written by Justice Samuel Alito and supported by Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. Politico also reports Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, and Elana Kagan were working on dissents or disagreements with the proposed decision.
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, more than 100 million Americans will be left without access to legal abortions and reproductive care. This will widen the abortion gap that affects minority and low-income patients. Wealthier patients seeking abortions can afford to cross state lines, while banning abortions will create even more barriers for those of lower income.
"This leaked opinion confirmed our worst fears," says Laura Meyers, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington. "However, it's not a surprise. You didn't have to be a clairvoyant to see these signs."
Overturning Roe v. Wade could also compromise the level of care or counseling nurses can offer to their patients seeking abortion and reproductive care. Some nurses could also begin leaving abortion and reproductive care altogether in search of better job security, further limiting access to care.
What's Happening With Roe v. Wade Being Overturned
Upon hearing the leaked news of a potential overturn of Roe v. Wade, Lauren Haines, a nurse practitioner providing sexual health services, initially felt surprised and shocked. Beyond the shock of a major document being leaked to the public, it was disheartening knowing it could be the opinion of the majority of the court, even after decades of regression in U.S. reproductive rights, the latest seen in Texas' abortion law SB8.
"It really feels that women's healthcare and equality are regressing, instead of progressing," Haines says.
Here is a quick rundown of Roe v. Wade and why it was and continues to be a progressive law passed in 1973:
- Norma McCorvey, also known as "Jane Roe," was a single mother with two children given up for adoption. In 1969, she became pregnant with her third child.
- At the time, Texas had strict laws against abortion deeming it unconstitutional. Only when a mother's life was at risk could they get an abortion.
- McCorvey sought the legal right to get an abortion in Texas. Her case was rejected.
- In 1973, the case was appealed, and it made it to the U.S. Supreme Court.
- McCorvey's case was heard with, at the time, 20-year-old Sandra Bensing, who was in the same situation.
- Their case won after arguing banning abortions was unconstitutional because it infringed on a women's right to privacy.
Overturning Roe v. Wade will not ban abortion nationwide but will allow states to decide abortion laws, including whether to restrict or even ban abortion. Twelve states have already authorized "trigger bans," laws that will immediately go into effect if Roe v. Wade is reversed.
"Potentially on Monday a woman in these states can have access to abortions, and on Tuesday she doesn't. So that's how swiftly [trigger bans] will take place," Meyers explains.
How Abortion Laws Differ Across States
As many as 26 states already have abortion laws that either entirely ban abortions or cut access to it. The Guttmacher Institution compiled a list of states that already totally or near totally ban abortions if Roe v. Wade is reversed:
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
Some states and the District of Columbia are protecting abortion laws and believe in the right to choose. These states include:
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
The Biden administration supports abortion rights and President Biden calls the drafted opinion "radical." He points out that overturning Roe v. Wade can infringe on other rights like the right to to use contraception and same-sex marriage.
Reactions are strong from healthcare organizations as well. They are speaking against the possible legalization of the abortion ban.
"Abortion is healthcare," Meyers says. "It plays such a critical role in the continuum of reproductive health. Nurses are so central to that."
What Overturn Means for Women's Health and Healthcare Providers
Overturning Roe v. Wade affects all aspects of healthcare access for individuals seeking reproductive care. Haines points out abortion clinics don't only perform abortion procedures.
"Many abortion clinics also provide nonabortion services including contraception, cervical and breast cancer screening, and [sexually transmitted infections] testing," Haines says.
Women's sexual and reproductive health has always been in the forefront of political debate. Having access to safe, reproductive care is a right for all individuals seeking care. But taking away that right directly affects those who lack access to economic opportunities like higher-paying jobs, which would allow them to afford to cross state lines.
- Poor individuals made up 50% of all patients having abortions in 2018.
- Legal abortion allows people without the financial means to raise children to make the choice best for their family.
- A study found that abortion legalization reduced the number of teen mothers by 34%.
- Access to legal abortion care also saves lives, particularly for Black patients. Abortion legalization reduced maternal mortality rates among Black patients by 30-40%.
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, lower socioeconomic patients seeking abortion will be "forced to either figure out a way to have an abortion (most likely an unsafe abortion) or be forced to carry a pregnancy to term," Haines says.
Nurses play a critical role in the provision of:
- Abortion care
- Family planning
- Education on discussing and preventing pregnancy
- Available resources and options for their patients
"It's essential that nurses can provide patients with medically accurate information free of ideological bend, so patients can make decisions based on medically accurate information that nurses can provide," Meyers explains.
Healthcare Organizations Are Speaking Against Decision
Healthcare organizations already take a stand for the importance of advocating for sexual and reproductive health.
- On May 3, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra issued a statement writing, "I strongly believe in protecting and promoting access to healthcare — that includes sexual and reproductive healthcare, and that includes safe and legal abortion care."
- In March, the American Nurses Association put out a position statement, saying that "everyone has the right to privacy and the right to make decisions about [sexual and reproductive health] based on full information and without coercion." They also believe nurses and other healthcare providers can suggest abortion as a reproductive health alternative.
- In their code of medical ethics, the American Medical Association writes that "the Principles of Medical Ethics of the AMA do not prohibit a physician from performing an abortion in accordance with good medical practice and under circumstances that do not violate the law."
- Planned Parenthood is planning to create a network of support among Planned Parenthoods across the country to transport patients from states where abortion care is inaccessible to areas where care can be provided. "Planned Parenthood is feeling determined to ensure that we are ready to meet the need in whatever way that need unfolds," Meyers says.
How Nurses Can Help Patients Impacted by Roe v. Wade Decision
Many nurses may not advise patients for fear of legal action taken against them. Haines also fears nurses will leave the speciality altogether in search of better job security, resulting in even less access to care.
"My fear is that nurses in these restrictive states will not be able to provide this care or counseling to their patients," she says. "[Nurses] will bite their tongues for fear of legal action being taken against them."
Haines says that nurses will play an instrumental role in helping patients impacted by the potential overturn of Roe. v. Wade. They are the direct link to patients seeking information on reproductive health. Nurses are also trained to provide comprehensive care and education to their patients.
Nurses should feel empowered to get involved. After all, this is what nurses do and who we are. Haines suggests getting involved locally.
"If you are able – attend protests, call your legislators, and donate to your local abortion organizations," advises Haines.
Other suggestions include:
- Educating patients on access to different types of contraceptives
- Encouraging local and national nursing organizations to get involved
- Donating to abortion clinics if you have the means
- Signing up to receive text messages so you're always informed about meetups and fundraisers
You can also do the following:
- Get connected into your local network. If you are a nurse providing care to patients in states where abotion may not be available, understand what options are available within the network available to them.
- Know about the local networks that can provide practical support, travel assistance, and more to patients seeking care.
- Embrace your role as an advocate and storyteller to highlight the importance of the right to reproductive care including abortion care.
- Take to the streets with other activists on May 14 for the nationwide "Bans Off Our Bodies" rally organized by Planned Parenthood and other reproductive rights organizations. Find information about your local demonstration here.
Abortion is still legal, and it is the pregnant patient's right to choose what they need for their body. Call your local abortion clinics if you need care or have questions, Haines says.
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, it is a direct attack on reproductive rights. It is important for nurses to stay involved and not give up.
"The opinions of the healthcare community are valued and needed in government," says Haines.
Meet Our Contributors
Lauren Haines is a board-certified family nurse practitioner providing sexual health services for TBD Health, an innovative startup that offers at-home STI testing for people with vaginas. She also volunteers as an abortion clinic escort in her free time. She earned her bachelor of science in nursing from the University of Connecticut and went on to work as an emergency room nurse and sexual assault nurse examiner. Haines earned her master's degree and FNP certification in 2014 and has experience working in primary care, reproductive health, telehealth, and nursing education.
Dr. Laura Meyers is currently CEO of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington. Prior to joining PPMW in 2008, Laura was CEO of Planned Parenthood of Western New York. Dr. Meyers holds a Ph.D. in Social Foundations of Education from the University at Buffalo (UB), a Masters in Counseling from UB, and an undergraduate degree from the State University of New York at Albany. She is a graduate of the Jacobs School of Management Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership Program at the UB as well as the Community Health Foundation of Western and Central New York’s Community Healthcare Leadership Fellowship program. Laura currently serves on the Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s Board of Directors, is the Vice Chair of the Affiliate Risk Management Board of Directors and Co-Chair of 416 Holdings’ Board of Directors. Dr. Meyers is the former Chair of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association’s Board of Directors. She also served for twelve years as an elected member of the Amherst Central School District Board of Education in New York State.
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