Bill to expand abortion access in California falters in state Senate

Published: Wednesday, Apr. 25, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3A

A proposal aimed at expanding access to a first-trimester abortion procedure in California advanced Tuesday 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, by Democratic Sen. Christine Kehoe, would have allowed trained nurse practitioners, physicians assistants and certified nurse midwives to perform aspiration abortions. Under current law, only doctors can conduct the procedure, which uses a suction method to remove a fetus from a patient's uterus.

But the Senate Public Safety Committee approved 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, although the bill covers clinicians trained through the end of this year.

Bill sponsors, including Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, say Kehoe's original measure would ensure that women in rural and medically underserved communities have access to early abortions. They argue that results of the multiyear study, which served as a model for the bill, have shown it is safe for trained clinicians identified in the bill to perform the procedure with proper training.

But opposition from the California Nurses Association threatened to derail the proposal. The union contends the change would be premature because the UCSF program is not complete and the study has not been peer-reviewed.

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. 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.

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