California has historically been at the forefront of the abortion debate. In 1967, then Governor Ronald Reagan signed the Therapeutic Abortion Act, which allowed abortions in the case of harm to the motherís mental or physical health and in cases of rape or incest. In 1969, a full four years before the Supreme Courtís Roe v Wade decision, Californiaís Supreme Court ruled that a woman has a fundamental right to decide whether to have a child.
The state is continuing the tradition.
This week, Governor Jerry Brown is expected to sign AB 154, which will allow non-physician medical professionals to perform early term (first trimester) abortions. The bill amends sections of the Professional and Conduct Code, as well as the Health and Safety Code to allow registered nurses, including nurse practitioners and nurse-midwives, and physician assistants to assist and perform abortions during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. Current law only allows licensed surgeons and physicians to do so.
A six year study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco showed that when non-physician medical professionals were properly trained to perform the most common abortion procedure, it remained just as safe as those performed by physicians with more than a decade of training (a less than 2 percent complication rate). It also concluded that the pool of personnel that could provide early term abortions could be dramatically increased by certifying non-physician medical professionals, increasing access to thousands of women.
Nearly 92 percent of all abortions occur during the first trimester.
For women in rural counties in California, this will dramatically increase access for low-income women. Many have to drive great distances to reach clinics that provide abortions. More than half of California women have no access to a family planning clinic able to provide abortion services. Later term abortions are often done due to delays in being able to find an available provider before the end of the first trimester. Increasing the number of medical professionals that can perform early term abortions would also significantly lower costs, as abortions performed after the first trimester are more costly.
Nurses and physician assistants will have to undergo extensive additional training and certification process. The training and competency protocols must comply with those established by the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.
This now makes California only the fifth state to allow trained non-physician medical professionals to perform abortions, joining Oregon, Montana, Vermont and New Hampshire.
For the past several election cycles, eliminating access to abortion has been at the top of ballot measures, campaign promises and legislative initiatives. On a national level, one of the first bills introduced in the 112th Congress in 2011 was HB -3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. It was the reintroduced in the current congress Ė the seventh bill of the House session. They even tried to pass a 20-week abortion ban.
Since 2008, 29 states have imposed increased abortion restrictions. They have passed a vast amount of laws that lessen the amount of time a woman can have an abortion, impose unnecessary waiting periods, require irrelevant procedures and impose facility standards that have forced many clinics to close due to costly renovations that have nothing to do with patient care –†just to name a few.
In contrast, California also passed legislation updating California Building Codes, which eliminates archaic language that was specific to abortion clinics, and now allows them to have the same standards as all other facilities.
It has been said that how California goes, so does the rest of the nation. Letís hope they can turn the tide, for the sake of all the nationís women.