An interview with Julie Jenkins, DNP, APRN, WHNP-BC
Julie Jenkins is a sexual and reproductive health nurse practitioner. A longtime champion for stigma-free abortion access, Julie was the lead plaintiff in ACLU litigation challenging Maine’s physician-only abortion law and a declarant in Maine Family Planning’s litigation to defend Title X. In her current role, Julie is the Clinicians In Abortion Care Strategist & Training Program Manager at the National Abortion Federation and is working on abortion training and support for advanced practice clinicians as abortion providers, including through collaboration among the National Abortion Federation, Reproductive Health Access Project (RHAP), and Nurses for Sexual and Reproductive Health as the CIAC representative to the APC Cluster. She is a co-founder and leads the advocacy work of the Abortion Freedom Fund.
Julie also has a long-time connection to Provide and was an instrumental research partner in developing our most recent Practice Guide on pregnancy options counseling. This Practice Guide was the result of a unique, intersectional collaboration among an advisory board of patients, patient advocates, clinicians, social service leaders, options counseling experts, and folks from reproductive justice organizations.
We had the opportunity to talk with Julie about her work and passion for abortion access.
What makes Provide’s Practice Guide an important and needed resource?
Provide’s Practice Guide is a shift in the way most of us have been trained to think about options counseling and three options: abortion, adoption, parenting. We present these three choices like they are equal options, but they aren’t. This framing also emphasizes outcomes for the embryo over the needs of the pregnant person.
In the Practice Guide, we present a bifurcated pathway—two options—that center the healthcare needs of the pregnant person. The options are to remain pregnant or to end the pregnancy. If a person wants to remain pregnant, then we can talk about planning for parenthood or connecting to adoption resources, but either way that person is going to need prenatal care. If the person wants to end the pregnancy, we can talk about their options (e.g., medication or aspiration) and resources for accessing abortion. The Practice Guide is the most patient-centered approach because it focuses on caring for the person in front of you.
How did you come to dedicate your career to expanding abortion access?
Abortion access has been my life’s mission and purpose. It was just always important to me and my family. My mom was a nurse, childbirth educator, and sex educator, so I was the kid who educated all my friends on what human sexuality was really about. Then my stepfather, Parker Harris, was an OB/GYN and abortion provider for all of northern Maine. My house was picketed, my stepdad’s practice was threatened, and it just made me more certain that abortion was something we needed to defend and protect.
I was a feminist from the time I could understand what that word meant. I served detention every day in high school, and I spent that hour of every day thinking about ways to destroy the patriarchy. I wrote papers about why abortion was a fundamental right and tried to make people as angry as possible.
In college, I started in 1991 as a volunteer doing abortion counseling and accompaniment at the Mabel Wadsworth Center in Bangor, Maine. After I earned my MSN, I worked in California to be able to provide medication abortion, and then came back to Maine, completed ultrasound training in Denver, and was one of two providers to pilot medication abortion at four sites using telehealth under the provision of a physician. When the law changed in 2019, due to legislation that I testified on which ultimately mooted our lawsuit, I was able to start providing medication abortion via telehealth myself. Now I’m not currently in clinical practice, but I’m using my expertise to train and support other advance practice clinicians (nurse practitioners, midwives, and physician associates) to become abortion providers and expand access that way.
Expanding medication abortion access has been a pillar of your work. Can you talk about your advocacy around abortion pills?
The day the Dobbs decision came down, two other providers and I launched the Abortion Freedom Fund, which focuses on funding telehealth abortion, dismantling the medicalized control of abortion, and advocating for a world where abortion pills are available over the counter. We have decades of safety and efficacy data on abortion pills. We have looked at the full spectrum of medication abortion care from fully medicalized to self-managed care. The data is clear: mifepristone and misoprostol are both safe medications that people can use to safely manage abortions on their own. If the case in Texas goes through and strips mifepristone of its FDA approval, it will be a huge miscarriage of justice and fly in the face of all this evidence we’ve put together over 25 years. That said I think it is also very important to remember that misoprostol-only medication abortion will still be available and is also a very safe and effective medication abortion regimen, as well as the most commonly used one worldwide.
Clinician training and education is also important to you. Can you speak to the need for more abortion education among health professionals?
I recently finished my doctorate in nursing at John Hopkins, where abortion is not part of the regular curriculum. Fortunately, they’re looking to change that and will hopefully be incorporating medication abortion into the general curriculum in some form. In my experience, most nursing schools don’t understand how much people don’t know. I was recently having a conversation about medication abortion with a group of nurse practitioners, and many of them were like, “We didn’t even know abortion pills existed. Why didn’t we know about this?” Abortion literacy is important because even if you’re never going to be an abortion provider, you’re going to see pregnant patients who deserve medically accurate information about every available option. I’m passionate about developing training opportunities and passing legislation to allow more clinicians to expand their practice in sexual and reproductive health.