Over the past three years, a record number of abortion clinics have closed their doors. The rush of closures is largely because states are launching a coordinated attack against clinics, imposing harsh new regulations that often force them to shut down. But at least one state is working to reverse the trend.
California — which has emerged as somewhat of a progressive leader when it comes to reproductive rights legislation — is advancing a proposal that would allow abortion clinics to adhere to the same standards as primary care clinics. That’s a sharp divergence from the type of abortion clinic restrictions that are spreading across the country, which typically require clinics to make unnecessary upgrades to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical facilities.
Women’s health experts, including the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, say there’s no good reason to require abortion clinics to update their facilities to fall in line with surgical standards. In the abstract, it’s easy for abortion opponents to make the case that these are necessary updates to ensure that patients are safe. But in reality, these type of state laws often require clinics to build bigger parking lots, install new air filtration systems, and widen their hallways — and when abortion clinics can’t afford those expenses, they’re forced to close their doors.
Abortion has typically been segregated from the rest of reproductive health care and held to a higher standard than other types of medical practice, simply because of the political opposition to the procedure. California state lawmaker Richard Pan (D) hopes his legislation will remove that unfair dynamic.
“This bill will repeal unequal and burdensome building requirements on clinics that provide abortions,” Pan explained at a hearing at the end of August. “This bill creates parity, that’s all… We are not lowering standards. We are basically applying the same standards across the board.”
The California Senate approved Pan’s measure on Monday, and it now returns to the Assembly for a final vote.
It’s not the first time that California lawmakers have recently worked to protect access to abortion care instead of attacking it. At the end of last month, California lawmakers voted to allow more types of medical professionals, like nurse practitioners, to perform early abortions. That represents an important method of expanding access to the procedure, since over half of the state’s counties currently lack an abortion provider. That piece of legislation is currently awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s (D) signature.