Politicians across the country are pushing for laws that restrict ethical standards of care and impose politics and ideology on evidence-based clinical care, research and health professional education, as outlined by this 2015 report by the National Partnership for Women & Families, the National Physicians Alliance, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Political interference is especially pronounced in sexual and reproductive health (SRH), particularly with respect to abortion access. Events at the University of Missouri – where the University cancelled Planned Parenthood contracts, ended admitting privileges for a Planned Parenthood physician and attempted to stop a graduate student from continuing her dissertation research on the impact of abortion restrictions – highlight how this threat has extended into the realm of academic freedom. Fortunately, national nursing organizations are responding to these threats – most recently with a position statement by the American Academy of Nursing.
The position statement outlines our policy platforms both for and against actions concerning academic freedom, and calls on our sister organizations to affirm and expand upon the positions therein. In the statement, we outline our opposition to political interference in evidence-based SRH care, education and research, as well as to the harassment and censorship of students and faculty studying SRH. We also lift up our support for the freedom of faculty and students to discuss SRH, engage in scholarship and research around SRH and pursue training and education related to evidence-based SRH care. This means universities should not try to limit classroom discussion about abortion care, an important aspect of SRH. Students and faculty should be free to receive instruction in abortion procedures, among other essential SRH services.
Nurses affiliated with the American Nurses Association and the American Academy of Nursing (the Academy) continue to raise their voices in support of policies that will 1) ensure that all women have full access to SRH services, 2) expand clinical knowledge and evidence-based women’s preventive health services related to preventing unintended pregnancies, and 3) decrease political interference in patient-provider relationships. Such policies assure that all women’s health care – including reproductive health services – is grounded in scientific knowledge and evidence-based policies and standards of care.
The Academy has responded to threats of political interference in the patient-provider relationship; ethical and evidence-based standards of care; and women’s access to safe, quality sexual and reproductive health care by:
- Speaking out about how political interference with SRH care harms women;
- Participating in an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court opposing a deceptive Texas law requiring medically unnecessary restrictions on clinical practice;
- Partnering with organizations such as the National Partnership to protect women’s health and the patient-provider relationship; and
- Opposing political interference in the Title X family planning program and fully supporting proposed U.S. Department of Health & Human Services rules strengthening Title X regulations that align program requirements with established Medicaid/Medicare criteria for qualified providers based on professional and facility scope of practice and licensing.
Nurses will not be silenced as politicians and others in power continue to pass laws that interfere in the patient-provider relationship, with research and with health care professional education. We call on health care professionals and academic communities to join us in affirming principles and actions that prevent political interference specific to SRH research and health professional education and that promote the principles and practice of academic freedom within public and private colleges and universities.