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A scaled-back version of a bill aimed at expanding access in California to an early abortion procedure stalled today in a key Senate committee.

Senate Bill 1338, by Democratic Sen. Christine Kehoe, originally sought to allow nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives and physicians assistants to perform aspiration abortions, a suction technique that under current law only doctors can conduct. The proposal was based on a multiyear pilot program and study run through the UC San Francisco Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health.

A narrowed version of the bill, which would allow only 41 clinicians trained under a pilot program to continue performing the procedure after this year, failed in the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee on a 4-4 vote. Democratic Sens. Juan Vargas and Lou Correa joined Republicans in opposing the bill. One member, Republican Sen. Tony Strickland, was absent for the vote.

The bill was amended this week as part of a deal Kehoe reached with the California Nurses Association, which opposed changing the law before the pilot program wraps up later this year and has its study results peer-reviewed. Kehoe said at the committee hearing that she hoped to continue talking with stakeholders about an agreement to restore the bill's original intent.

Supporters say allowing more trained providers to perform the procedure will give women early access to abortions from providers they already know and trust, noting that some women in rural and medically under-served communities must travel hours to receive an abortion. They say results of the multiyear pilot program, which is set to expire in September, show it is safe for non-doctors who are properly trained to do the procedure.

Critics testifying at the committee hearing as well as some committee members questioned the procedure's safety, pressing supporters about what the possible complications are and whether there is enough evidence to expand the pilot program statewide.

"I just think we don't know enough about it," said Sen. Mark Wyland, R-Solana Beach.

The bill was granted reconsideration and is set to come up for another vote in early May.


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