The State Senate approved a measure on Monday that would allow nurses, physicians’ assistants, and certified midwives — with specialized training — to preform early aspiration abortions. If signed into law, Assembly Bill 154, carried by Assemblymember Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), would greatly increase the number of available health care providers able to legally perform these abortions within the first trimester of a woman’s pregnancy.

Aspiration abortions terminate a pregnancy through a suction procedure. Existing law only allows non-physicians to perform medication abortions.

Currently, about half of the state’s 58 counties have abortion facilities. This measure seeks to allow women in rural areas access to procedures in their own communities. Santa Barbara State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson — who co-authored the bill — is one of its key advocates. “Given the number of these procedures that are sought, there just aren’t enough physicians that can do them all,” Jackson said. “This will expand the availability.”

Further, the bill’s advocates base their argument on a five-year study led by UC San Francisco in which thousands of non-physicians performed aspiration abortions with less than a two percent complication rate. Jackson said the 98 percent success rate by non-physicians matches that of physicians.

“The earlier it is done, the safer it is,” Jackson said. “If we can get these women the services that they seek at the earliest possible time, then that is the safest.” The California Medical Association also supports the bill, Jackson added. Currently, four other states allow nurse practitioners to perform these types of abortions.

The Senate passed AB 154 with a vote of 25-11, mostly on party lines. Opponents argued that non-physicians would not have adequate backup if complications arose. “I don’t support abortion and furthermore I couldn’t support this bill because it puts women’s lives at risk,” said State Senator Joel Anderson (R-San Diego). “I believe women who live in rural communities deserve the same level of health care as women who live in the cities.”

Jackson argued opponents based their opinion on ideological grounds. “They are anti-choice,” she said. “Fortunately, the legislature is a reflection of the pro-choice attitude in the state of California.” AB 154 is on its way back to the Assembly with Senate amendments. Proponents expect the bill to be on the governor’s desk within the next few weeks. If signed into law, it will be effective January 1.


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