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Missouri Shreds Academic Freedom

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 13/11/2015 Mona Shattell
INEQUALITY © erhui1979 via Getty Images INEQUALITY

We applaud Payton Head, the president of the Missouri Student Association, as he calls for discussion on systematic oppression on the University of Missouri campuses. We'd encourage students and faculty at the University to also start a university-wide conversation about the oppression of academic freedom when it comes to teaching essential, evidence-based women's health care in the University's health professions schools.
Missouri's anti-choice legislature, in consistently chipping away at reproductive rights (introducing more than 70 anti-abortion bills since 2013), has taken a decidedly different approach in attacking reproductive health access. Now these same legislative extremists are playing politics with teaching and research at the University of Missouri. First, in August and September, The University of Missouri canceled ten clinical training contracts for nursing and medical students at Planned Parenthood clinics. Then, under pressure from anti-choice lawmakers, the University of Missouri ended admitting privileges for a Washington University OB-Gyn faculty member and Planned Parenthood physician. And now, a Missouri state lawmaker wants to stop a University of Missouri graduate student from continuing her dissertation research on the impact of a 72-hour waiting period on women considering abortions. Clearly, Missouri elected officials are abusing their positions in order to attack Planned Parenthood clinics and restrict essential women's health services.
In no area of healthcare other than abortion do our state and federal governments impose this level of morality-based discriminatory legislation that has the potential to criminalize healthcare providers, restrict scientific research, and manipulate patients in an attempt to sway their health care decisions. And now, we find the Missouri government is violating academic freedom and perhaps even federal law that prohibits discrimination in educational regulations or against healthcare personnel because of their views about abortion.

American federal and state governments have enacted laws and policies that interfere with abortion providers' ability to care for their patients. Some restrictions, known as "targeted regulation of abortion providers" (TRAP laws), impose onerous restrictions on abortion providers that aren't required of other outpatient surgical and health care centers. Additionally, many of these so called TRAP laws aren't evidence-based and have nothing to do with protecting patient safety. This adds another type of restriction--targeted regulation of scientists, students and educators.
As concerned scholars, nursing educators and women's health providers, we support access to comprehensive reproductive health care services for all women and we oppose restrictions that put politics and ideology before our ability to provide the highest level of care to our patients. Restrictions on teaching essential components of caring for patients with unintended pregnancies, including contraception and abortion care, is a violation of our ethical obligations to teach to a standard of care as well as to provide safe quality care.
One important foundation of clinical teaching is scholarship that produces understanding and evidence. Restricting academic freedom impedes such scholarship and prevents the generation of new knowledge that will improve the health and healthcare of all women and men. The restriction of academic research by politicians is deeply worrisome and problematic for several reasons:

  • The future of quality and safe reproductive healthcare depends on having well trained clinicians who benefit from clinical experience, with women seeking this care, during all phases of their education and training.
  • All nurses will encounter women who are at risk of unintended pregnancy, experiencing early pregnancy loss, choosing induced abortion as a legal treatment option, or experiencing complications from a miscarriage or abortion. It's unethical for nurses not to be trained in the standard of care for an essential component of women's health care.
  • Without rigorous scientific evaluation of the impact of legislation and policies on healthcare safety and quality, it's difficult to determine the best guidelines, policies and procedures to promote and protect the health of the public.
  • Preventing our students from studying the laws of the society in which they live opens the door to significant reductions in society's ability to adapt, evolve, and develop policies that support a safe and healthy population.

As other scholars have warned, the loss of academic freedom has many repercussions that have long lasting impacts. The future of knowledge production, education and clinical care should not be subject to politicians' personal beliefs. Women, academics, students and clinicians should have the option to choose, teach, research and treat based on the latest scientific and medical evidence and not be subject to misguided politicians whom are clearly out of touch with mainstream America, imposing their beliefs on others.
Co-authored by Diana Taylor PhD, RN, FAAN, professor emerita, University of California, San Francisco; Monica McLemore PhD, RN, MPH, assistant professor, University of California, San Francisco; Candace W. Burton, PhD, RN, AFN-BC, AGN-BC, FNAP, assistant professor, Virginia Commonwealth University; Ellen Olshansky PhD, RN, FAAN, professor, University of California, Irvine; Judith Berg PhD, RN, FAAN, professor emerita, University of Arizona; Amy Levi PhD, RN, CNM, professor, University of New Mexico; Nancy Woods PhD, RN, FAAN, professor, University of Washington; Mona Shattell PhD, RN, FAAN, professor, DePaul University.

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