The first abortion providers were midwives, not physicians. In the United States, as the practice of medicine started to become “professionalized,” male physicians began driving midwives and women healers out of practice. Midwives – especially black grand midwives – were publically demonized. When the American Medical Association started criminalizing abortion in the 20th Century they claimed midwife “abortionists” were dangerous, and they used these allegations as a reason to outlaw abortion. Ever since, midwives have slowly been fighting to reclaim their role in pregnancy care, which for many includes abortion.
In March, I opened my email to find notification of a new post in the American College of Nurse Midwives (ACNM) message board for one of the caucuses I subscribe to, Midwives in Support of Reproductive Health and Abortion (MSRHA). The post was titled: “The most incredible news from ACNM in my 33 years of membership!” While I had been busy lumbering through the first part of nursing school, a group of incredible midwives was busy crafting a formal ACNM position statement titled Midwives as Abortion Providers.
I feel called to provide abortions in the same way I feel called to guide people through pregnancy, labor, and birth as a midwife – and I am not alone. Midwives and students have been talking about providing abortion for a long time, and recent gains on the issue can be attributed to the unwavering work and advocacy being done by a very passionate group of providers.
Some midwives already provide medication or aspiration abortion (or both) in states where it is legal. Various groups are working on changing laws state by state. The ACLU has two active lawsuits to challenge physician-only abortion laws, one in Montana and one in Maine, and if New York can pass the Reproductive Health Act, nurse-midwives and nurse practitioners in the state could begin offering aspiration abortions alongside the medication abortions they are already providing.
Furthermore, I was overjoyed to see ACNM publish this position statement just days after the release of the NASEM report on the safety of abortion in the US. ACNM has stepped up to recognize the important work already being done by nurse-midwives across the country, to support efforts to expand our authority to practice in places where it is not currently legal, and to energize midwifery students who more and more frequently enter school expecting to learn how to offer abortion services. After all, we know that nurse-midwives and nurse practitioners provide abortion as safely as physicians.
Next on the to-do list: adding miscarriage and abortion care into ACNM’s Core Competencies, set to be renewed this year.
Position Statement: Midwives as Abortion Providers can be read in full here.
Katrina is an accelerated second-degree nursing and midwifery student at the University of Pennsylvania. She is a member of both the New York City Metro Area and Eastern Pennsylvania Network Clusters, where she enjoys brining the nurse-midwifery perspective.