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California lawmakers are sending Gov. Jerry Brown a bill that would continue a study in which nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and physicians assistants conduct first-term abortions.

Senate Bill 623, by Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, cleared the state Senate today on a vote of 22-16. Outside of this study, only doctors can perform aspiration abortions, which use a suction technique.

The bill is a third attempt for Kehoe. She originally wrote a bill that would license nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and physicians assistants to perform such abortions. It was amended to drop the licensing and continue the study, but the bill died earlier this year in commitee.

Republicans criticized SB 623 as a last-minute "gut and amend" bill. It began as a measure concerning boat paint.

"I don't understand the germaneness of these two. I'm questioning whether this is even appropriate to be brought up," said Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga.

His question prompted senate leaders to huddle for several minutes on the Senate floor. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg emerged to tell the upper house that it could vote on the amended bill because it had been through health committees in both houses and cleared the full Assembly.

The bill extends a study run by University of California, San Francisco, that evaluates the safety and effectiveness of allowing certain non-doctor medical providers to provide abortions. The study that began in 2007 has nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and physicians assistants performing aspiration abortions throughout California, Kehoe said. The goal is to increase access to the procedure in parts of the state where doctors are scarce.

"It's an existing study that's been extended several times, this is an additional extension," Kehoe said. "Otherwise the study would cease at the end of this month and the practitioners participating in the city would no longer be able to perform this procedure."

Sen. Doug La Malfa, R-Richvale said he was troubled by "such a big push for something that could be such a grave health issue."

"We're going to have under-qualified people doing these things," La Malfa said.


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