October 24, 2014 — Contrary to many state legislatures across the country, California is moving to expand abortion access, not restrict it, the Los Angeles Times reports.
According to the Times, a California law (AB 154) that allows non-physician health care providers to provide certain abortion services was the only abortion-related measure enacted in the U.S. last year "that increased the number of abortion providers" (Romney, Los Angeles Times, 10/23).
The law allows nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives and physician assistants to perform aspiration abortions during the first trimester of pregnancy and requires the providers to complete specific training and comply with standardized medical protocols (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/10/13). Previously, only physicians were allowed to offer the procedure.
National Abortion Federation President Vicki Saporta said the measure solidifies the state's reputation as "the gold standard" for abortion access.
While four other states allow non-physicians to perform aspiration abortions, California is the only state to do so after previously only allowing physicians to provide the procedure.
More Providers Training To Expand Access
According to the Times, about 50% of California's 58 counties do not have a readily accessible abortion provider, and only a few of the non-physicians trained to conduct aspiration abortions are located in less populated areas of the state.
However, abortion-rights supporters are hopeful that new programs to train non-physicians to perform the procedure will help further expand access. For example, University of California-San Francisco School of Nursing in fall 2016 is planning to provide a post-masters certification program that includes training on conducting vacuum aspirations and has begun the process of preparing faculty to train others on the procedure.
AB 154 has allowed Planned Parenthood's San Rafael Health Center to provide aspiration abortions throughout the week as part of its routine services because more clinicians can perform the procedure. Previously, one physician would perform abortions for four hours every Friday.
The clinic's lead clinician -- a nurse practitioner and certified nurse midwife named Anna, who declined to provide her last name -- said offering the service throughout the week is "a much less stigmatizing way to offer an abortion."
According to the Times, advocates believe the clinic is the first in the state and one of just a few nationwide "to move away from segregated abortion days."
Planned Parenthood Northern California Medical Director Jeff Waldman noted that offering aspiration abortions as part of a clinic's routine services likely will not be feasible for every facility. The San Rafael clinic is able to do so not only because of Anna's clinical skills but also because the volume of procedures is manageable, he explained. A shift toward greater use of medication abortion has decreased demand for aspiration procedures nationwide, the Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 10/23).