As state legislatures across the country have rushed to enact record-breaking numbers of restrictions on abortion that have severely limited women’s access to reproductive health care, California is bucking the trend. Instead of restricting health services, the Golden State is advancing a proposal that would actually expand access to first-trimester abortions.
On Monday evening, the California Senate gave final approval to Assembly Bill 154, a measure that would allow more medical professionals to perform early abortions. Under the bill, midwives, nurse practitioners, or physician assistants who complete a specialized training would be able to perform abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. After the Assembly reconciles the measure’s new amendments, it will head to Gov. Jerry Brown’s (D) desk.
Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins (D), who sponsored the legislation, explained that it will “help fill the gap created by the fact that over half of California’s counties lack an abortion provider.” Indeed, there’s a serious shortage of abortion providers across the country — and as abortion clinics continue to be forced to shut down, it can be too difficult for low-income women to make the long trip to the nearest one.
State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D) pointed out that expanding access to abortion providers is an important move to ensure that women can terminate a pregnancy as early as possible. Although later abortions are a very safe medical procedure, earlier abortions are even safer and easier to perform. “This is not a complicated procedure in its earliest stages. It becomes more problematic the longer it is delayed. It is frequently delayed because women do not have access,” Jackson explained.
Proponents of Assembly Bill 154 point to a multi-year study conducted by researchers at the University of California-San Francisco that found that first-trimester abortions can be safely done by nurses, certified midwifes, and physician assistants. Although abortion opponents typically raise alarm about the unsafe nature of the procedure, state-level health data — including the results of a GOP-commissioned investigation into abortion clinics across the country — consistently dispels that notion.
Other states on the West Coast have taken similar steps to protect access to reproductive health care. Oregon is the only state in the country that hasn’t imposed a single restriction on abortion. And Washington has a state law codifying the right to choose an abortion that requires public hospitals to offer both maternity care and abortion services.