(CN) — California Senate President pro tempore Toni Atkins introduced a bill Thursday aimed at expanding abortion access across the state.
Senate Bill 1375 would allow nurse practitioners who have been practicing full-time for more than three years to perform abortions in the first trimester without a medical doctor present.
"With an increasing shortage of providers, far too many Californians are struggling to get the care they need, when they need it,” said Atkins in a written statement. “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.”
According to the California Future of Health Workforce Commission, the state faces a shortfall of more than 4,100 primary care clinicians. The group says the shortfall would disproportionately affect the Latino, Black and Native American populations.
"When nurse practitioners are able to work independently, underserved communities — which are predominantly communities of color — benefit from an increase in access to services," Atkins said.
There are currently nine states that allow nurse practitioners to perform abortions without supervision of a doctor, including Massachusetts, Hawaii and Montana.
Atkins' bill is co-sponsored by the California Association for Nurse Practitioners. It could face opposition from the California Medical Association, a doctors' lobbying group, though it has not yet formally taken a position on the bill.
The legislation is one of several in the works by California Democrats to expand abortion access, in anticipation of the U.S. Supreme Court weakening or overturning of the landmark Roe v. Wade.
"Too many Californians must travel great distances to access their constitutionally protected right to abortion," said Jodi Hicks, the president of Planned Parenthood of California. "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.”
In 2013, then-Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 154 — also by Atkins — that opened the door for nurse practitioners and properly trained midwives to perform medication and aspiration abortions in the first trimester. Up to that point, it had been a crime for anyone other than a physician or surgeon to do so.
According to the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, Atkins' bill was the only piece of state legislation passed in 2013 nationally that expanded — rather than restricted — abortion access for women.