Calif. may allow non-doctors to perform early-term abortions


With the help of Planned Parenthood, California is now one step closer to increasing access to abortion services for women. The Assembly Public Safety Committee approved a bill that allows nurse practitioners, midwives and physician's assistants to terminate pregnancies in the first trimester. Right now, only doctors can do that.

"We don't have enough providers," Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California spokesperson Kathy Kneer said. "It's a very important bill to provide increased access to early reproductive healthcare in California."

The proposal, though, is controversial. At a time when movements to restrict access to reproductive healthcare and defund family planning services are gaining ground around the country, California is moving to expand them.

But the California Catholic Conference testified access is not an issue in this state when compared to national numbers.

"In 2008, 214,000 women obtained abortions in our state at a rate of 27.6 per 1,000 women of reproductive age," California Catholic Conference spokesperson Carol Hogan said. "Compare that to the national rate of 19.6 per 1,000 women."

Others say it's too risky to let non-doctors perform abortions.

"Women deserve the best of medical care when undergoing an invasive surgical procedure by a doctor who can handle complications and a doctor who has hospital privileges," abortion rights opponent Wynette Sills said.

But UC San Francisco has been studying whether non-doctors can safely perform abortions. The research ends in September, but so far, the results are backing supporters.

"In our study, 40 clinicians were trained in competence, and they performed over 8,000 abortion procedures," Prof. Tracy Weitz said. "Their safety outcomes were equivalent to their physician colleagues."

The proposal may have survived its first test, but the tough votes are likely to come later from Democratic Latinos whose religious beliefs are against abortion, but politically, they also believe in women's rights. It now moves to the Business and Profession committee on Thursday.

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