Women could go to a medical professional other than a doctor to end some pregnancies under a bill advancing through the California Legislature.
The bill by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, would allow nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives and physician's assistants to perform so-called aspiration abortions during the first trimester. The method involves inserting a tube and using suction to terminate a pregnancy.
Atkins said her bill, AB154, would help expand access to abortion services in areas of the state that have few physicians. Half of California's counties do not have abortion providers, she said.
“The growing shortage of abortion providers creates a significant barrier for women's access,” Atkins said. “Authorizing trained health professionals to provide early abortion services removes those barriers.”
Under a state pilot program created in 2007, 8,000 aspiration abortions have been provided by non-doctors. Legislation approved last year extended that program until January.
Four states – Oregon, Montana, Vermont and New Hampshire – already allow nurse practitioners to perform these abortions.
Nurse practitioners also are allowed under state law to administer medicine to induce an abortion.
Republicans said expanding who can perform abortions would increase the risk to patients. Comparing abortion to outpatient surgeries, they said women should have health professionals with the most training performing their abortion procedures.
“Just because we are more rural, just because we are higher in poverty, does not mean we deserve less access to high-quality medical care,” said Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto.
Atkins and other supporters said data from the trial showed both doctors and non-doctors performing the procedures with error rates of less than 2 percent.
Under the bill, the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development would issue the standards. Nurse practitioners would have to complete a clinical training course before they are authorized to perform abortions. They also will work with a supervising physician in case of emergencies.
The Assembly passed the legislation Tuesday on a vote of 48-24, with one Democrat, Assemblyman Rudy Salas of Bakersfield, joining Republicans in opposition. The bill now heads to the Senate.