Examining What's at Stake: The Supreme Court, Nurses and Abortion Care Provision

This March, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Whole Woman's Health vs. Hellerstedt, a case that will determine the future of an abortion care provision in Texas -- and the most significant abortion case in two decades.

Ever since the landmark Roe v. Wade case more than 40 years ago, the Supreme Court has remained steadfast in affirming a woman's constitutional right to safe and legal abortion care.

The Whole Woman's Health case seeks to prevent politicians from using deceptive laws to limit a woman's Constitutional right to end a pregnancy. The Texas House Bill2 (HB2), passed in 2013, imposes onerous restrictions on access to abortion care, including a requirement that providers obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals no farther than 30 miles away from the clinic, and a requirement that every health care facility offering abortion services meet building specifications similar to those of ambulatory surgical centers. Together, these requirements would close all but 10 abortion clinics in a state with 5.4 million women of reproductive age, and leave 500 miles between San Antonio and the New Mexico border without a clinic.

Put simply, laws like these make it nearly impossible for a woman who has decided to end a pregnancy to get the safe, legal, high-quality care she needs.

To prevent this from happening, the American Academy of Nursing supports Whole Woman's Health, the lead plaintiff in the case, and is a signatory on one of 45 "friend-of­ the-court" briefs filed in January.

Nurses, as health care professionals dedicated to supporting the health and safety of their patients, recognize that legislation restricting patient access to abortion keeps us from providing the patient care we are trained and dedicated to provide. We support our patients and stand ready to serve them both in the hospital and policy arenas.

As a predominantly female profession, nursing is especially concerned by laws that victimize women and seek to sharply limit the reproductive rights guaranteed to them by the U.S. Constitution. By closing clinics, women will be forced to scramble in search of alternative (and often unsafe) means of receiving abortion care.

But how important is it that nurses support access to abortion care?

Data from a recently published study by Dr. Monica McLemore Ph.D., RN show that nurses prioritize the needs of their patients above their own personal beliefs and feelings. Nurses recognize that personal decisions about health are best managed by patients and their caregivers, without the interference of politics and policy.

One nurse explained this way, "We, nurses don't make [those] moral distinctions about patients. We deal with people and we say, 'You're my patient. I'm going to do the best I possibly can for you. I'm going to give you the medicine you need. I'm going to make sure you're healthy."'

The American Academy of Nursing (Academy) stands in strong support of every woman's fundamental right, as repeatedly affirmed by the Supreme Court in the four decades since Roe v. Wade, to make her own decisions regarding her pregnancy with the advice of a health care professional she trusts, and without interference from politicians who presume to know better. The Academy urges the Supreme Court to block Texas' dangerous sham law, and recognize that playing politics with a woman's health isn't just wrong, it's dangerous.