While most of the country ramps up efforts to restrict abortion access, California has been taking the opposite route, and expanding access. In the state’s latest move to expand access, a wider range of health care providers will now be able to perform aspiration abortions — one of the most common types — during a pregnant woman’s first trimester.
The bill, championed by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) will allow nurse practitioners, midwives, and physician assistants to perform the procedure, which involves suctioning the contents of the uterus out. The bill passed in The Assembly by a 50-25 vote in August, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed it into law on Wednesday.
“California has a strong history of support for reproductive health care for women,” Atkins told The New York Times, adding that some women in rural parts of the state were having difficulty with finding someone who can perform an abortion. “This is an issue of accessibility. California is a very large state, and more than half the counties don’t have an abortion provider.”
The law comes amid a wave of prolife changes to other states’ abortion laws. In Texas, women’s rights groups are currently fighting to reverse a law recently passed by Gov. Rick Perry that would require doctors to have admitting privileges to nearby hospitals, restrictions on abortion medications, and a host of other limitations. Similar laws are also being fought in Mississippi, North Dakota, and Wisconsin.
“California is moving in a different direction than the rest of the country. So far this year we have seen 68 abortion restrictions become law, and California is the only state to make real progress to protect abortion rights,” Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute, which researchers reproductive rights, told San Jose Mercury News.
But opponents of the bill — no Republicans voted for it — aren’t convinced that expanding access to those who don’t have it is the real goal of the bill. Furthermore, they are questioning the ability of non-physicians to perform the procedure.
“This bill trivializes what is taking place with abortion,” Brian Johnston, director of the National Right to Life’s Western division, told The New York Times. “It will massively expand the number of abortions and at the same time reduce safety. For those who say they care about women’s health, they’re doing the opposite, reducing the medical standards for abortion.”
But a state pilot program that began in 2007 showed that these health care providers could perform aspiration abortions. During the program, there were 8,000 abortions with complications rates below two percent — the same rates for regular physicians.
“This is a very safe procedure and we now have a very large study to show that this does not compromise safety,” Dr. Tracy Weitz, who led the pilot program, told the Times. “Most people saying it compromises safety actually have an agenda to make abortion illegal, which we know from decades of experience actually makes abortion unsafe.”
The law is the first to expand abortion access in any state since 2006, when Hawaii voted to keep abortion legal even if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned in the future. The state has no major abortion restrictions, such as waiting periods, mandated parental involvement, or limitations on publicly funded abortions.