SACRAMENTO (AP) — Nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives and physician assistants could perform a type of early abortion under a bill approved Monday by the state Senate, leaving the measure one step from the governor.
The measure by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, would let those medical professionals perform what are known as aspiration abortions during the first trimester. The method involves inserting a tube and using suction to terminate a pregnancy.
The Senate approved AB154 on a mostly party-line, 25-11 vote, sending it back to the Assembly for a final vote on amendments.
Expanding the list of professionals who can perform those types of abortions would help make them available in areas that have few doctors, said Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, who carried the measure in the Senate. She said about half of California counties lack abortion providers.
"All women deserve access to care in their local communities," she said.
The procedure is safest when performed early, yet women in rural areas often have difficulty arranging for and traveling to a provider, she said.
Several Republicans objected to the expansion, saying it would increase medical risks for patients.
"Abortion is a serious medical procedure with vast complications, and I would argue that only the best-trained should conduct such an operation," said Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber. "It has direct and profound impact on lives: the mother and the baby — and there is a baby."
Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, said legalized abortion was supposed to end the days when women's lives were put at risk. Yet he said Atkins' bill would allow the procedures by providers who have less training and in clinics without sufficient backup if there are complications.
Jackson responded that the medical professionals covered by the bill have been performing the procedure for six years without significant problems. The bill requires them to get specialized training and follow standard procedures.
Under a state pilot program created in 2007, 8,000 aspiration abortions have been provided by non-doctors. Data from the program showed both doctors and non-doctors performing the procedures with error rates below 2 percent, Jackson said.
Oregon, Montana, Vermont and New Hampshire already allow nurse practitioners to perform these abortions. Under California law, nurse practitioners can administer medicine to induce an abortion.
Sen. Lou Correa, D-Anaheim, joined Republicans in voting against the bill, while three senators did not vote: Republicans Bill Emmerson of Redlands and Mark Wyland of Escondido; and Democrat Ben Hueso of San Diego.