Kayley Scruggs grew up in Mississippi, witnessing the regular protests outside of the state’s one abortion clinic, called “The Pink House,” by opponents and supporters alike. She’s now attending school in Georgia, working on getting her Bachelor of Science in nursing, before ultimately becoming a midwife. But those experiences never left her, and she is now working to become an abortion provider.
“I eventually want to be a midwife and my goal is, I think I told you, I want to provide abortions,” Kayley told Better Georgia. “But I am also very interested in providing prenatal care, and care during labor and delivery, and postnatal care and everything. And that seems to confuse a lot of anti-choice folks, the fact that I want to deliver babies and provide abortions.”
Becoming an abortion provider is no easy task, but Better Georgia had a chance to sit down with two students who are making sure they’ll be able to provide abortion care to their patients, once they enter the medical field.
For Kayley, deciding to become an abortion provider is about putting the people she’s entrusted to care for first and supporting patients in their decisions.
“I do love babies and I’ve been thinking about when do I believe is the beginning of life? So I think I’ve personally had challenges, but it’s never really been hard for me to put my own personal beliefs on the back burner in the interest of my patients,” Kayley shared.
Ellen, who asked us not to publish her last name, is getting her Master of Nursing degree, and ultimately wants to be a nurse practitioner serving women and families. She’s also really interested in providing rural healthcare, shaped by her experiences working in rural Washington.
“It just really was amazing to me the discrepancy between where I grew up [in New Jersey] and what my trajectory had looked like, and what a lot of these people I was working with in this poor, rural area had to deal with,” Ellen said, sharing stories of witnessing people die from completely curable illnesses — like the flu — had they been able to access safe, supportive healthcare in a timely manner.
Rural communities often struggle with lack of access to healthcare, and the consequences are deadly. In Georgia, part of this rural healthcare crisis stems from the recent spate of rural hospital closures. In rural communities, hospitals are where many women will go to receive care while pregnant, including care for complications that stem from pregnancy. The Georgia Obstetrics and Gynecology Society predicts that by 2020, 75 percent of the care areas outside Atlanta “will lack sufficient obstetric services.”
Ellen, like Kayley, wants to provide abortion care for her patients because she wants to be able to support her patients getting exactly the care they need in their own community.
“Just being able to provide more services to your patients, so they don’t have to travel five hours and stay overnight and lose three days of work wages,” Ellen said, describing what many folks in rural communities have to go through in order to get an abortion or other forms of healthcare that aren’t widely available.
For both of them, navigating a world where abortion is highly politicized can make it easy to lose sight of how abortion care is just part of the healthcare that people need.
“You are responsible as a provider. The conversation around [abortion] makes it really easy to forget that’s it’s a very simple, safe, common medical procedure — that it’s just a part of normal healthcare,” Ellen said.
The way abortion has been politicized can also make people nervous or afraid to talk about it. Both Kayley and Ellen described their universities as very “pro-choice,” particularly within their health-oriented college programs. But even so, they’ve both experienced students and professors who have been uncomfortable talking about abortion care.
“It’s going to cross your path in your practice, and it may be in an emergency setting,” Kayley said, explaining why healthcare providers need to be knowledgeable about abortion. Unfortunately, some health programs won’t even cover the topic.
And outside their programs, Kayley and Ellen face social and political institutions that are downright hostile to abortion.
“I just get so frustrated with the fact that people who aren’t, these legislators who aren’t even involved in healthcare at all, they know nothing about delivering healthcare,” Kayley shared, adding, they “are asking us to lie to our patients. It infuriates me to no end.”
In Georgia, several pieces of anti-abortion legislation have been introduced, including a measure requiring healthcare providers to tell patients that they can reverse a medication abortion — which has no scientific or medical basis.
“I really don’t know what the solution is to this issue of our legislators asking us to give inaccurate information to our patients, but it has to stop,” Kayley said.
It’s not just politicians that create barriers to healthcare providers having the support they need to provide abortion care — the stigma and even threats of violence that can surround the work make it an unpopular field.
“We’ve seen a real shortage of abortion providers, and the numbers are just going down and down. I believe mostly due to the risk of becoming an abortion provider, with all of the violence against providers in this country,” Kayley shared. “The people who are investing in becoming providers are all about it, it’s not just a job for them, they are doing it because they wholeheartedly believe in doing the work.”