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National Nurses Week 2020

Nursing Work Is Advocacy Work

By: Krystal Kilhart, NSRH Membership Intern

With the outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States, the visibility of nurses speaking out against injustice in our healthcare system has gained attention. Death tolls of patients and healthcare workers alike continue to rise with little to no intervention from the government. There has also been increasing rhetoric around frontline workers like nurses being celebrated as heroes in our fight against COVID-19. This adoption of war like language is priming the general public for an acceptance of mass deaths of nurses and other front line healthcare workers that are entirely preventable. 

Since the start of the pandemic, nurses have been speaking out against this problematic language calling out the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), insufficient ventilators and other lifesaving technologies, improper sanitation and quarantine measures, lack of paid sick leave and hazard pay. From protesting against state decisions to lift stay-at-home orders in Arizona to demanding PPE outside of the White House in honor of fellow healthcare workers who have lost their lives to COVID-19, nurses are joining the outcry of thousands of other essential workers whose lives are being placed on the line. As Jillian, a nurse in Brooklyn, NY, put it: the wartime rhetoric makes the deaths of health care workers seem “inevitable, and unavoidable, when really we’re being sacrificed...” 

Although this activism has steadily been gaining attention, it should not be mistaken for something new. Nurses have been actively speaking out against injustices in healthcare and patient treatment for decades. For many nurses, it is a necessary facet of the work they do. In particular, nurses working in sexual and reproductive healthcare have always advocated for their patients’ as well as their own rights and safety. Just weeks ago, registered nurse and Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (D-IL) led the Black Maternal Health Caucus in passing the Momnibus Act 2020 to address black maternal mortality and morbidity in our nation. 

Nurses working in sexual and reproductive health clinics experience daily threats of violence and domestic terrorism. From the assasination of Kansas doctor George Tiller in 2009 to the recent upsurge in statewide abortion bans under the guise of COVID-19 protections for patients and healthcare workers, access to sexual and reproductive healthcare remain under constant threat. Nurses have been at the forefront of activists’ fight to ensure unrestricted access to sexual and reproductive healthcare. Just last year, Maine Governor Janet Mills (D-ME) signed a bill allowing nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other qualified medical professionals to administer abortions involving oral medication and in-clinic procedures.

Nursing and social justice are inherently linked; both healthcare and advocacy are essential means of protecting patient, provider, and community health and well-being. In a healthcare system that places profits over human life, nursing and advocacy have been and will continue to go hand in hand. 


Black Maternal Health Week 2020


Nurses for Sexual and Reproductive Health is honored to participate in this year’s Black Maternal Health Week 2020 organized by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance. This year’s theme is “Centering Black Mamas: The Right to Live and Thrive.”

As nurses, providers and advocates for sexual and reproductive health, we work every day to address injustice within our healthcare system. According to the CDC, nearly 700 women die every year in the U.S. as a result of pregnancy or its complications. Black women are two to three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women. While we know that racism, poverty, and social inequity of all kinds puts many of our pregnant patients at risk before they ever see us, it is our job to interrupt and end cycles of violence that perpetuate these systems. It is our job to provide quality, compassionate care to all pregnant people, and believe them when they tell us what they are experiencing and need. It is our job to interrupt anti-Black racism when we see it operating in our healthcare systems, processes and protocols, even if it means questioning a colleague or supervisor. It is our job to educate ourselves and each other about reproductive justice, the history of reproductive coercion and other racial justice issues that affect our patients, as well as build consciousness about the conditions and cultures our patients are coming from. It is also our job to build opportunities for our fellow nurses of color, particularly Black nurses, to advance and thrive in healthcare. It is our job to listen to Black Mamas. 

We know that ending racism and addressing its impact on healthcare is a long game that will take all of us. We also know that our battle to provide care in the face of COVID-19 has just begun. We have a lot on our plates, and we are part of a collective grief that will take many years to heal from. This is the time to move into our power as nurses, to speak truth to power, and make sure we support Black Mamas in living and thriving. 

If you would like to learn more about Black Maternal Health Week 2020, we invite you to attend the #BMHW20 Webinar Series and online local events.