Sacramento Bee, March 3, 2022
By Lindsey Holden
A new California bill would allow independent nurse practitioners to perform abortions without doctor supervision — a shift supporters say would improve access to the procedure in rural areas with few doctors.
Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, on Thursday announced Senate Bill 1375, which would build on previous legislation that gave nurse practitioners the ability to serve patients independently, eliminating the need for doctor oversight.
Nurse practitioners are currently able to perform aspiration abortions — non-surgical procedures that take place early in pregnancies — under doctor supervision. Atkins’ bill would update state laws to incorporate abortion services into the new framework that allows nurse practitioners to work without physician oversight.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed that measure, Assembly Bill 890, in September 2020, although it won’t take effect until 2023.
Nurse practitioners must earn master’s degrees and receive additional medical certifications beyond the training required for registered nurses.
Many nurse practitioners already treat patients mostly independently of doctors, although they were required to work under physician supervision prior to the passage of AB 890.
SB 1375 would bring AB 890 together with another law, Assembly Bill 154, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed in 2013. That law allowed nurse practitioners to perform early stage, nonsurgical abortions with doctor oversight.
Atkins’ bill would also lay out the qualifications nurse practitioners need to transition to independent practice — “a minimum of 3 full-time equivalent years or 4,600 hours as of January 1, 2023.”
Under SB 1375, nurse practitioners who begin practicing on their own after AB 890 takes effect next year will able to perform abortions, which bill supporters say would help pregnant people seeking the procedure in remote areas that lack doctors.
“With an increasing shortage of providers, far too many Californians are struggling to get the care they need, when they need it,” Atkins said in a news release. “Patients — especially pregnant people considering abortion — don’t have time to waste. That’s why it is so important that highly skilled, qualified nurse practitioners have the opportunity to practice independently, including the ability to provide first term abortions.”
Nurse practitioners, abortion rights groups support bill
The California Association for Nurse Practitioners (CANP) is sponsoring SB 1375.
“The California Association for Nurse Practitioners is proud to sponsor SB 1375 and we are thankful to President Pro Tem Toni Atkins for her continued leadership in ensuring that women and all Californians have access to the care they need,” said Patti Gurney, CANP president, in a statement. “It is important that restrictions on practice be removed so that patients can receive timely, uninterrupted, and high-quality care in all health settings. As nurses, our patient’s needs are always first and foremost.”
The bill also has support from Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, NARAL Pro-Choice California, the American Nurses Association of California, which see it as a way to expand abortion access. It’s unclear whether the California Medical Association, which opposed AB 890, has taken a stance on the bill.
“SB 1375 is a step towards expanding California’s network of abortion providers and addressing the recommendations brought forth by the California Future of Abortion Council to expand the abortion workforce,” said Jodi Hicks, president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, in a statement. “Too many Californians must travel great distances to access their constitutionally protected right to abortion.”
“As we see patients forced to seek abortion and reproductive health care in California because of hostile bans in their home states, this legislation will improve the network of available providers by ensuring that nurse practitioners can provide care, including abortion, in independent settings and increase access to these services throughout the state,” Hicks added.