NEWS
September 28, 2021

How The Texas Abortion Ban Puts Nurses At Risk

How The Texas Abortion Ban Puts Nurses At Risk
Kathleen Gaines
By: Kathleen Gaines MSN, RN, BA, CBC

In May, Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed SB 8 anti-abortion bill, aka the “heartbeat law,” that prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, usually around six weeks. Oftentimes this can be before many women know they’re even pregnant. After many appeals and finally making it to the Supreme Court only to be upheld, the law officially took effect on September 1st.

Now after almost a month, more and more stories are surfacing of doctors and nurses pushing the envelope and disobeying the law. Women across the state of Texas and around the country have led countless protests in hopes that the bill will be overturned. Unfortunately, to little avail.

While not only devastating to women across the state of Texas, this law is also a direct attack on healthcare and healthcare providers. The American Nurses Association’s (ANA) official statement states that all nurses advocate for the human rights of patients, colleagues, and communities. As nurses, there is a duty to our patients and to make sure they receive the best care possible.

Liability Risks

According to the US. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2021 there are 219,330 registered nurses in the state of Texas.  This figure does not include travel nurses which are always in high demand in Texas. While the Texas Nurses Association is neither pro-life nor pro-choice, they do look out for the interest of the nurses practicing within the state. Cindy Zolnierek, CEO of the Texas Nurses Association, said, "We do not want nurses to be in a position of being reported based on, on a suspicion.”

Unfortunately, that is what this bill does. It allows individuals to sue or report nurses that are suspected of participating in an illegal abortion. This past week, Oscar Stilley, a disbarred lawyer from Arkansas, sued a physician in Texas because he admitted to performing an illegal abortion under the new law. Based on the rules of the new law, if found guilty the physician would be required to pay $10,000 to Stilley.

Nurses are at the same risk as physicians. They are at risk of being sued, losing their nursing license, and potentially jail time for participating in illegal abortions. 

Allowing citizens to sue anyone involved in abortions, is causing nurses to reconsider careers in women’s reproductive health.

Nurses’ Associations Tread Lightly, But Why?

Many professional organizations have continued to tread lightly on making an official statement despite many having made previous statements regarding abortion. While most acknowledge the controversy surrounding abortion, all professional nursing organizations openly state that nurses’ responsibility lies with the patient.

New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) has, through the Council on Ethics and Human Rights and its Nursing Education and Practice Department, continued to study and research the issues surrounding abortion and reaffirms the position of the rights of women as patients and nurses.

The American Nurses Association (ANA) last released a statement in 2016 regarding women’s reproductive health stating “the ANA has advocated and will continue to fight for affordable, quality health care for all people, including services related to reproductive health. ANA believes that individuals have the right to privacy and the right to make personal decisions about their health without coercion or unnecessary barriers.”

In 2016, the Texas legislature required physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and forced clinics to meet hospital-like standards of surgical centers. As a result, more than half of Texas’s abortion clinics had to close which unfairly restricted access to reproductive health services.

Impact on Nurses

As Texas continues to grapple with the effects of the delta variant and COVID-19, the state is desperately seeking nurses for all disciplines. Unfortunately, between the risk of being sued by citizens based on an assumption and the closing of numerous abortion clinics - there will be countless nurses debating their next step. Despite the risks, nurses continue to stand up for not only themselves but their patients, including those interested in abortion.

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