Nurses play a crucial role in the health care provision industry. Through their professional knowledge and skills, nurses provide health care services that enable patients to recover and regain their well-being. Nurses provide a wide array of services to patients and some of these services might lead to a rise in ethical issues. One service provided by nurses that might lead to ethical concerns is abortion care. There has been a significant increase in the number of abortions carried out in the country. The legalization of abortion in many States has contributed to the prevalence of women seeking abortion services from medical centers. Allyson and Fothergill (2009) document that the number of abortions carried out in the hospital setting has increased over the last decade. This has resulted in nurses being more directly involved with the termination of pregnancy procedures since nurses are key personnel in inpatient healthcare provision. Despite the legality of abortion, many nurses view abortion as an ethically contentious subject. Abortion, therefore, presents ethical concerns for a large percentage of nurses. This paper will engage in a discussion on the ethical issues associated with abortion care in the health care system. It will elucidate on how nurses should approach this contentious issue in order to maintain professionalism and uphold the law.
Abortion in a Nursing context
By definition, abortion is the deliberate termination of a pregnancy by a woman through surgery or with the aid of abortifacient medication. The legal status of abortion has changed dramatically over the last century. While the practice was outlawed for many centuries, laws began to change in favor of abortion from the mid 20th century. Today abortion can be performed lawfully, although under specific legal parameters that vary from State to State. The legal standing of abortion has led to the expectation that nurses will automatically be involved in abortion care. Allyson and Fothergill (2011) point out that the advances made in abortion care point towards greater nursing involvement. This involvement leads to positive outcomes for the patient, who receives safe and professional care form the nurse. Allyson (2011) observes that in some hfromh care provision institutes, abortion is regarded as any other medical service that the nurse is professionally equipped to offer.
However, nurses have differing moral positions on the topic. This individually constructed moral perspective guides the actions and views of the nurse. While some nurses find the practice acceptable, others find it unacceptable and contrary to their moral values. This raises a number of ethical issues since there is a conflict between the legal and moral principles of the nurses. While some would expect the legal principles to take precedence over the moral principles, this is not always the case. Moral principles are important in helping the nurse to decide on what is the right or wrong action.
Ethical Approaches to the Issue
An ethical approach to abortion care should be guided by the ethical guidelines and principles for professional nurses. One principle that nurses must follow is the principle of autonomy. This principle highlights that the patient has the right to make decisions concerning his/her health care and the decision should be made without external pressure from the nurse. This is an important consideration since nurses have their own opinion on abortion. Allyson (2011) reveals that some nurses have negative attitudes towards abortion. The nurse might be tempted to influence the patient to avoid carrying out the abortion. Since the nurse holds a position of power due to her professional knowledge, such influence will have a major impact on the decision of the patient. This would be unethical conduct since it would violate the principle of autonomy.
Nurses should be helpful and assist the client in her decision-making by providing accurate and informative information. Most women seeking abortion services lack accurate and comprehensive information on abortion. As a knowledgeable member in the health care service industry, the nurse is charofd with the task of providing relevant information to the client. Professional ethics require the nurse to put aside his/her personal opinions and offer accurate and unbiased information to the patient (Allyson, 2011). The nurse must avoid withholding information about options on abortion or exaggerating the risks of abortion with the aim of dissuading the client from seeking abortion services. Misinformation would be a violation of the professional ethics or nursing and the principle of veracity, which requires nurses to be truthful when providing information to the patient.
The nurse is required to provide optimal services to the patient at all times. A nurse who is providing services in abortion care is required to provide the best quality of care in spite of his/her personal opinions on the matter (Gallagher, Porock & Edgley, 2009). This is in accordance with the nursing ethical code that requires the nurse to exercise professionalism and promote the health and well-being of the patient. When the nurse is tasked with an abortion case, he/she must act to ensure the success of the operation. Refusal to provide services is unethical and it might lead to legal action against the nurse if the well-being of the patient is adversely affected.
Professional ethics require the personal values of the nurse to be respected. A person’s moral values, which are guided by the individual’s personal values or his/her religious beliefs, play a major role in guiding individual action. Forcing a nurse to act in a manner contrary to his moral values will lead to significant negative effects. Allyson and Fothergill (2009) warn that the effect of abortion care on nurses who are opposed to abortion should not be underestimated as research findings reveal that abortion care increases the level of stress and might cause adverse psychological impacts. Professional ethics would therefore require the health care institution to respect the belief system of the nurse (Gallagher et al., 2009). Nurses who are opposed to abortion should not be forced to play an active role in this procedure. This view is supported by Kendall-Raynor (2011) who asserts that it would be naive to expect nurses who fundamentally object to a woman’s choice to end a pregnancy to provide quality service to women having an abortion.
The topic of abortion remains a contentious issue that raises significant ethical concerns in nursing care. This paper has discussed the ethical issues associated with abortion care and their impacts on nurses and proceeded to highlight how the issues can be tackled in a legally and professionally sound manner. The paper has articulated the legality of abortion in many states and increase in demand for abortion services. It has also the noted that some nurses are opposed to providing abortion. The paper has shown how abortion can be dealt with in an ethically sound manner. By following the ethical approach suggested in this paper, nurses can provide quality care to patients without violating the core principles of nursing or going against individual moral values
Allyson, L. (2011). Self-preservation in abortion care: a grounded theory study. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 20(5), 892-900.
Allyson, L., & Fothergill, A. (2009). Nurses in abortion care: identifying and managing stress. Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession, 31(2), 108-120.
Gallagher, K., Porock, D., & Edgley, A. (2009). The concept of ‘nursing’ in the abortion services. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 66(4), 849–857.
Kendall-Raynor, P. (2011). Health workers use equality law to refuse role in abortion care. Nursing Standard, 25(51), 8-9.