Maine Won’t Let Nurse Practitioners Perform Early Abortions, and It’s Harming Our Patients — So I’m Suing

From the time I was in college, I knew two things: I wanted to be a nurse practitioner, and I wanted to be an abortion provider. As the stepdaughter of a Maine abortion provider, and then a patient advocate at a Maine abortion clinic, I’d seen firsthand the importance of high-quality, comprehensive reproductive health care. I saw the challenges and protestors, too, but that didn’t deter me—I couldn’t imagine a more fulfilling career.

Today, I’m proud to say that I am a practicing nurse practitioner and that I had the gratifying experience of providing safe, compassionate abortion care while living in California. And now that I’m back in Maine, I provide my patients at Maine Family Planning with a range of reproductive health services, including inserting intrauterine contraceptive devices (IUDs) and performing colposcopies, which involve very similar skills as first-trimester abortion care.

I was also one of the first two nurse practitioners trained to help provide medication abortion care through Maine Family Planning’s telemedicine program, and I’ve been safely doing so since 2015. I provide every element of patient care both before and after a physician authorizes the patient, via video conference, to swallow the first of two pills that together end an early pregnancy. (The patient takes the second set of pills at home.)

But even though I safely provided abortion care in California, regularly perform procedures in Maine that are comparable to first-trimester abortion, and provide all of the in-clinic care for patients receiving a telemedicine abortion, Maine law bans me from performing abortions because I’m a nurse practitioner. As a result, I’ve been forced to send away patients in desperate situations, even though I am trained, qualified, and more than willing to provide the care they need.

Fortunately, with the help of the ACLU, I’m fighting to change that.

Our lawsuit challenges a provision in Maine law that requires abortions to be performed solely by physicians and blocks qualified nurse practitioners and nurse-midwives from doing so, despite our rigorous training and extensive clinical experience. Abortion is the only healthcare service singled out in this way.

These harms are not hypotheticals.

Medical authorities and peer-reviewed studies agree that advanced practice clinicians are qualified to provide early abortion care. In fact, advanced practice clinicians have been safely providing abortion care in states across the country — from California to Montana to Illinois to New Hampshire — for years and, in some cases, decades.

But the problem isn’t just that this law is preventing me and my colleagues from providing services that are well within our scope of practice — it’s also harming our patients.

Maine is the most rural state in the country, and the physician-only law severely restricts where and when patients can obtain an abortion. Because of this restriction, women must needlessly travel for hours — and pay for transportation, child care, and time off work that many of my low-income patients cannot afford — rather than getting care from a trained and competent provider in their own communities.

There’s a saying in Maine, reflecting our expansive geography and abysmal public transportation: “You can’t get there from here.” For some patients who need abortion care, particularly in the middle of a snowy Maine winter, that is the sad truth.

Moreover, because of this restriction, abortion care is generally only available in any given location in Maine one or two days of the week. For a patient in a low-wage job with no paid time off, or with significant childcare obligations, this is a serious problem.

These harms are not hypotheticals.

Just last month, I received a call from a patient who needed an abortion and wanted to come into Maine Family Planning’s Presque Isle clinic for care. I was there that day and ready to assist with a telemedicine abortion, but we simply could not find a doctor who was available by video conference. So even though I am qualified to provide this care, and we had the medication on site, the patient’s abortion was delayed by 14 days. To make matters worse, she had to make a five-hour round-trip to Bangor to get care. The state simply has no justification for harming Maine women in this way.

I care about this issue dearly. Time and again, my life experiences have affirmed for me that women need to be able to make our own decisions about pregnancy and parenting — and have access to health care to see those decisions through. My own journey to parenthood was a difficult one that included multiple rounds of IVF, miscarriages, and more anxious and sleepless nights than I can count. That experience only strengthened my resolve that women should be able to control our reproductive destinies, no matter what we decide.

And whatever a woman decides — to become pregnant, to continue a pregnancy, or to seek an abortion, she should have access to quality care from a provider in her community. I’m fighting to make that a reality.

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Anonymous

Do you also object to work with drunk drivers that have caused accidents, or maybe obese patients , or what about drug addiction, or sex offenders.
Celebrate women and women's choices NOT zygotes and embroys. Don't chose the part of the woman you want to work with, she is a WHOLE person.
In my country we have over 3 million AIDS orphans, unless you are prepared to adopt some, don't condemn the choices of women

Anonymous

I think the decision to take the life of an unborn child should be a hard and arduous one. Traveling 5 hours and going through a big ordeal should be the standard. We should not easily take life. Instead, be responsible about your body and take birth control, just say "no", or give the child up for adoption.

Anonymous

Easier said than done in some countries. In South Africa we have over 3 million AIDS orphans - adoption is not really an option over here.
As far as the "just say NO" - really . And punishing women and making them travel 5 hours. Are you health care providers or some sort of sadistic pleasure seekers in others misery.
Let us hope and pray (and yes abortion providers do that) that you or a family member ,are never in a sitiuation where you might need an abortion.

Anonymous

As a nurse practitioner myself I must ask- you see your self as a womens advocate? How does abortion promote womens heath?
It use to be that medical schools and nursing programs were required to take vows to 'do no harm'. Were you required to do so?
Sad, and scary, to think there are so many providers that think as you do today....

TCA-B

It terrifies me that someone charged with the care of patients could not only hold this view but would see fit to challenge a colleague anonymously when she is speaking honestly and frankly about the obstacles she faces to provide the best possible care for the women who put their trust in her. You should be ashamed.

Anonymous

As a nurse practitioner myself I must ask- you see your self as a womens advocate? How does abortion promote womens heath?
It use to be that medical schools and nursing programs were required to take vows to 'do no harm'. Were you required to do so?
Sad, and scary, to think there are so many providers that think as you do today....

Anonymous

As a nurse practitioner myself I must ask- you see your self as a womens advocate? How does abortion promote womens heath?
It use to be that medical schools and nursing programs were required to take vows to 'do no harm'. Were you required to do so?
Sad, and scary, to think there are so many providers that think as you do today....

Richard

I am a psychiatric nurse practitioner and I find you reprehensible. I treat many women who have undergone abortion and are scarred by it. You're a disgrace to all of us who provide care. If terminating life is the Pinnacle of your career then God have mercy on you

Anonymous

LOL who are you to be judging? What a wanna-be Christian haha

Roberta Lavin

I'm an ACLU supporter, a nurse practitioner that supports full practice authority, and accept that is abortion is legal. I fully support the fight for not to have one's practice limited especially when the evidence supports one skill and ability. However, I find abortion to be a bad decision under the very difficult circumstances.
I don't know if I'm misreading this article or shocked by what I'm reading. "From the time I was in college, I knew two things: I wanted to be a nurse practitioner, and I wanted to be an abortion provider." I think you are the first nurse that I've ever heard say she wanted to be a nurse to take a life or even a potential life. I find it disturbing. I think I need to hear more about the why and what drew you to this other than a parent with the same profession.

I cannot imagine how this will be good for the image of nursing or advance the role of the nurse practitioner.

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