Date of Award

2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing

Department

Nursing

First Advisor

Debra Erickson-Owens

Abstract

Access to safe abortion care has been linked to better maternal and child health outcomes (Sedgh et al., 2012) and identified as essential for advancing women’s economic and social equality (Bengsch, 2015; Lang, 2013). Around the world, nurses, including nurse practitioners (NPs) and certified nurse midwives (CNMs), are integral members of the health care teams that provide care to women considering or electing to have an abortion. Evidence supports NPs and CNMs as safe and effective providers of comprehensive early abortion care, and acceptable to patients (Barnard, Kim, Park, & Ngo, 2015; Kopp Kallner et al., 2015; Weitz et al., 2013).

Currently in the United States (US), almost one million women have an induced abortion each year (Jones & Jerman, 2017). National abortion data reveal significant disparities in rates, and inequities in access (Jerman, Jones, & Onda, 2016). An inconsistent legal and regulatory landscape precludes NPs and CNMs from providing comprehensive abortion care in many states, including some where there are few providers. Vermont and New Hampshire comprise two of the four states where laws and practice regulations allow NPs and CNMs to perform aspiration abortion, and across New England. These advanced practice nurses (APRNs) are extensively involved in providing and managing the care of women undergoing medication abortion. Little literature describes nurses’ experiences providing comprehensive early abortion care around the world, including in the US. The aim of this qualitative, exploratory, descriptive research study was to explore the experiences of NPs and CNMs who provide comprehensive early abortion care in New England. Data were collected through in-person individual interviews with seven NPs and one NP/CNM. Providing comprehensive early abortion care was generally a positive experience for most participants, though it did include challenges. Critical influences to becoming an NP or CNM who provided comprehensive early abortion care included the era in which participants came of age, values of their family of origin, exposure to feminism, reproductive rights and social justice during emerging adulthood, having a role model or mentor, and a personal experience of having an abortion. Support at every level from interpersonal to societal was found to be a key enabling or constraining factor. Laws and regulations at the societal level were also noted to facilitate or impede abortion care provision by NPs and CNMs in the study. Finally, participants offered words of wisdom to others considering providing comprehensive early abortion care that ranged from clinical pearls to inspirational statements. They were universally encouraging in recommending this as a service to incorporate into clinical practice. This study has a number of implications for the future including the need for further research on NPs and CNMs experiences providing early abortion care in other regions of the US, and to remove state legislative and regulations that constrain practice for clinicians in this area of reproductive health care.

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