A proposal aimed at expanding access to a first trimester abortion procedure in California advanced today after being stripped of its key provisions, signaling that lawmakers could punt on the issue amid opposition from the California Nurses Association.
The original version of Senate Bill 1338, (originally Senate Bill 1501) by Democratic Sen. Christine Kehoe, would allow trained nurse practitioners, physicians assistants and certified nurse midwives to perform aspiration abortions. Only doctors can conduct the procedure, which uses a suction method to remove a fetus from a patient's uterus, under current law.
The Senate Public Safety Committee approved today a scaled-back version of the bill that would allow only clinicians trained under a UC San Francisco Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health pilot program to continue performing aspiration abortions after the program sunsets in September. That pool is now at 41 individuals, Kehoe's office says, though the bill covers clinicians trained through the end of 2012.
Sponsors of the bill, including Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, say Kehoe's original measure would ensure that women in rural and medically under-served communities have access to early abortions. They argue that results of the multi-year study, which served as a model for the bill, have shown that it is safe for trained clinicians identified in the bill to perform the procedure with proper training.
But opposition from the California Nurses Association, which contends the change would be premature because the program is not complete and the study has not been peer reviewed, threatened to derail the proposal. The association has also raised concerns about how earlier language would affect nurses' ability to assist with other kinds of abortions and procedures.
Compromise language to authorize only the study participants to perform the procedure after the pilot program wraps up emerged late last week, as the bill faces a Friday deadline for winning approval in two policy committees.
Kehoe told the committee that she and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg will meet with stakeholders in the coming weeks to "resolve still outstanding issues" in hopes of restoring the bill to its original intent.
The bill, which was approved on a vote of 4-2, is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee later this week.