California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law last weekend a bill extending a program that allows non-physicians perform first-trimester abortions.
Proponents of the law claim it helps provide abortions to women in rural areas who couldn’t otherwise obtain an abortion, while pro-life advocates are upset the state is continuing a program that endangers the lives of both unborn babies and their mothers.
The University of California, San Francisco’s Health Workforce Pilot Program started in 2007 and has allowed 41 nurse practitioners, nurse-midwives, and physician assistants perform aspiration abortions, which use a vacuum to suck parts of the unborn child out of a woman’s womb. Since the program began, non-physicians have performed 8,000 first-trimester abortions.
While Brown signed the bill without comment, he did speak at a Los Angeles Planned Parenthood facility the day after signing another bill allowing registered nurses to distribute hormonal contraception to women of reproductive years.
“At a time when some seek to turn back the clock and restrict women’s health choices, California is expanding access to birth control and reaffirming every woman’s basic Constitutional rights,” the governor said.
The SB 623 bill will extend the abortion program until January 1, 2014. It claims the program needs to continue “to maintain the competencies of clinicians trained to date and to authorize continued training for new clinicians … because [the program] is likely to increase the availability of safe, early abortion care that is limited in many areas of California.”
But Dana Cody of Life Legal Defense Aid argues that there are no such things as safe abortions—abortions always kill the unborn baby, and in this case, the program has seen an 80 percent increase in complications with the mother when non-physicians perform surgical abortions.
“I don’t understand why they are risking women’s well-being for the sake of abortion,” Cody said. “With any other issues we follow the money and protect those in harm, but with human life we don’t protect the unborn.”
Planned Parenthood backs the abortion program, and most of the non-physicians trained are employees at existing Planned Parenthood facilities in the state. The nation’s largest abortion provider has kept details of the program under wraps, including who trains the non-physicians, who the non-physicians are, and who is funding the program. State health officials also are not allowed to review patient records from the program and cannot verify the information produced by the program.
“This is part of a movement to expand abortion when fewer doctors are getting involved in the abortion business, abortion doctors shutting down and getting arrested,” said Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.org. “Planned Parenthood wants more providers of abortion. They really want to train nurses to be abortionists. They want to start with California.”
Despite the high complication rate and the fact that little is known about the project, state Sen. Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) tried to pass a more exhaustive bill earlier this year that would have allowed all licensed physicians assistants, nurse practitioners, and nurse midwives perform abortions, but the measure failed to pass state senate.
Instead, she “gutted and amended” a bill that had originally been introduced to prevent toxic material from being used to remove barnacles from ships, and added much of the language from her original bill but focused specifically on the Health Workforce Pilot Program.
Cody fears that this bill could be the first step toward more extensive bills in the state and in the nation, as California’s laws often impact the rest of the country. For instance, California was the first state to introduce legislation requiring insurance companies cover contraceptives in 1994, which is now being implemented under the Obama administration’s healthcare law.
“I’m sure they’ll say ‘we need more non-physicians,” Cody said. “Physicians go through how many years of school, versus someone trained for five days for a surgical abortion? It’s frightening for women to go into a clinic and not know if they will come out injured or dead.”