California on Wednesday became the only state in the nation this year to increase access to abortions, as Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill allowing more medical professionals to perform abortions.
AB154 by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, would let nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives and physician assistants with special training perform abortion by aspiration -- in which the uterus' contents are suctioned out -- which is the most common kind of first-trimester abortion. The Assembly passed the bill on a 50-25 vote in May, and the state Senate passed it on a 50-25 vote in August, with most Democrats and no Republicans voting for it.
"California is moving in a different direction than the rest of the country. So far this year we have seen 68 abortion restrictions become law, and California is the only state to make real progress to protect abortion rights," said Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-rights research group.
"This is just a common sense measure," she said. "The state recognizes that abortion is not always available when needed and that advanced practice clinicians are well-placed to provide those services."
But Brian Johnston, executive director of the California ProLife Council, said the bill "isn't about helping women so much as about promoting abortion."
Johnston said the reason the Legislature had to pass such a law was that enough "honest doctors have read the Hippocratic oath."
"What this is doing is creating a whole new pool of abortionists. It's surgery by people who are not surgeons," said Johnson, who is also the National Right to Life Committee's Western director.
Brown also Wednesday signed AB980 by Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, which requires the repeal of any sections of the California Building Standards Code that treat primary-care clinics differently if they do abortions.
Kathy Kneer, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, issued a statement saying Brown "has always been a champion for women's reproductive health, and he's proved it once again."
"We hope that California can serve as a model for the nation and help stem the tide of regressive reproductive health laws," she said.
Restrictions enacted by other states this year include tighter clinic regulations, requiring abortion providers to have hospital privileges nearby, banning abortions after certain points in a pregnancy, banning "telemedicine" that lets doctors remotely supervise administration of pregnancy-ending drugs, and restricting abortion coverage in the states' new health-insurance exchanges.
Besides California, only New York and Washington state have moved to expand abortion access in 2013 -- and in both those states, the bills fizzled out amid Republican opposition.
"We find it just a wretched idea, but our opposition was not successful," Carol Hogan, spokeswoman for the California Catholic Conference, said of the bills signed Wednesday. "We're opposed to abortion, and until it's illegal we'll advocate for restrictions on it."
She said AB154 creates "a two-tiered health system" for women seeking abortion. Women of means will seek care from physicians working in surgery-ready hospitals, while poor women will seek care from clinics lacking surgical capabilities without doctors present should anything go wrong, she said.
"It just seems that women are being treated like second-class citizens here -- that the procedures that they seek out don't deserve a physician," she said.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed two bills into law Wednesday aimed at increasing Californians' access to abortion:
AB 154 by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego -- Allows a nurse practitioner, certified nurse midwife or physician assistant to perform an abortion by aspiration (suction) in addition to medication in the first trimester of pregnancy upon completion of specified training and validation of clinical competency.
AB 980 by Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento -- Requires the California Building Standards Commission, along with the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, to repeal regulations and sections of the California Building Standards Code that treat primary-care clinics differently if they do abortions.