Assembly Bill 154, by Democratic Assemblywoman Toni Atkins of San Diego, authorizes nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, and physician assistants who undergo training to conduct aspiration abortions, a procedure that uses a suction method to remove a fetus early in a pregnancy.
The bill cleared the Assembly Business and Professions Committee on a 8-4 party-line vote.
The measure would expand a state pilot program that's been in effect since 2007, and supporters say it would ensure women have early and safe access to abortion providers in their communities. They cite a University of California, San Francisco Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health study that found low rates of mostly minor complications related to the first trimester abortions performed by pilot participants.
"The goal is to ensure that there are providers, qualified and trained, throughout every county in the state," Atkins said.
Critics at the hearing raised concerns about safety, training and expanding access to abortion in general, especially among teenage women.
"I don't think we should treat it as taking a pill or anything like that," said Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills. "This is a very complex situation."
An earlier attempt to allow non-doctors to perform the procedure fell short last year. The California Nurses Association opposed that proposal, raising concerns that a full study of the pilot program had not been completed. The bill also ran into opposition in a key Senate committee, whose members included two Democrats who opposed abortion rights.
PHOTO CREDIT: An intake worker waits for paperwork from a teenage client at a family planning and abortion clinic in San Francisco. Julie Plasencia / Associated Press file, 2005