The Guardian, March 4, 2022
By Samira Sadeque
California has introduced a bill that would allow nurse practitioners to provide abortion care without the supervision of a physician.
The San Diego senator Toni Atkins, who introduced the bill, said the expansion of nurse practitioners’ roles would address both a looming shortage of healthcare professionals in the state, and help California prepare for a potential influx of patients driven by increasingly stringent abortion laws elsewhere.
Pro-choice supporters march behind a banner reading “March for Reproductive Rights” in Los Angeles.
California could become ‘sanctuary’ for care amid threat to abortion access
Atkins said the measure would be especially useful in serving communities of color that suffer most from understaffed healthcare systems.
“When nurse practitioners are able to work independently, underserved communities – which are predominantly communities of color – benefit from an increase in access to services,” she added. “SB 1375 would create opportunities for more Californians to receive the care they need, regardless of their zip code.”
The bill SB 1375 was announced on Wednesday, and would ease restrictions that were set in place by a 2013 law, which allowed nurse practitioners, certified midwives and physician assistants to carry out abortions as long as they were under the supervision of a physician and completed a certain set of requirements in their training. Under the new bill, nurse practitioners’ who obtain a minimum number of hours and clinical experience could perform the procedure unsupervised.
Atkins said the goal is to increase the number of healthcare workers in California who can perform abortions ahead of a potential supreme court ruling this summer that could overturn Roe v Wade, allowing states to ban or severely restrict the procedure.
“As states like Texas and others start to restrict further abortion, it just makes sense that women are going to find other places to go. California will be one of those states,” she said, indicating that the state will host women from places like Texas where the draconian abortion law has been in effect for six months.
Atkins’s measure will probably sit well in a state that has already branded itself “a sanctuary” for patients seeking abortion care while other states clamp down on.
In December, the California Future of Abortion Council announced a series of recommendations to consider to prepare for the high influx of prospective patients travelling from out of state that included paying for travel, lodging and access to care.
Atkins also cited a potential shortage of healthcare workers in the next decade and highlighted how this bill could address that.
According to a 2019 report by the California Future Health Workforce Commission, the state is expecting to see a drop of 4,100 primary care clinicians and 600,000 homecare providers. The scarcity is being driven by a retiring generation of healthcare providers, at a time when health departments are struggling to recruit workers due to “lack of tools for recruiting, limited options for advancement, and instability of funded positions”, the report said.
One of the recommendations made in the report to address this shortage is to expand roles of nurse practitioners and to give them “greater practice authority”.
“Families who live in clinic deserts found throughout the state have a particularly difficult time accessing primary care, because there simply are not enough providers available to them,” Senator Atkins said. “Nurse practitioners can help fill that growing need.”
Patti Gurney, President of the California Association for Nurse Practitioners (CANP), lauded the move and said they are sponsoring the bill.
“It is important that restrictions on practice be removed so that patients can receive timely, uninterrupted, and high-quality care in all health settings,” she said.