Pending law would allow California nurse practitioners to help with influx of out-of-state abortion patients, says expert

As Senate Bill 1375 continues to advance through the legislative process, nurse practitioners in California could soon be allowed to perform first trimester abortions without physician supervision. 

 

Get the latest state-specific policy intelligence for the health care sector delivered to your inbox.

 

According to Jessica Dieseldorf, Senior Program Manager of Abortion Services at Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, this expansion of providers authorized to perform first trimester abortions could help increase access to reproductive health care across the state.

“The history of the nurse practitioner profession has to do with extending access to health care into rural areas that didn’t have enough health care providers,” Dieseldorf said. “We have counties in California that have fewer abortion providers and some counties that have no identified abortion providers, and so to me, it’s a really natural extension of the mission of this profession.”

She said this could also significantly help the state meet the increased demand for abortion services, especially from out-of-state women, as a result of the federal overturning of Roe v. Wade.

“We’re talking about expanding capacity, not just for our patients locally and in rural areas that may not have access already, but then also expanding capacity and access for patients in more urban areas that are closer to transit hubs. If we’re seeing patients that are fleeing from oppressive states where they’re not able to get that kind of health care, we could imagine that they may be driving or flying into areas where more access is going to be needed.”

Dieseldorf said most of the opposition to the bill has been coming from those who believe in abortion exceptionalism—or the treatment of abortion differently compared to other kinds of medical care.

“People who are opposed to nurse practitioners being able to do this kind of work independently are making assumptions that abortion care is somehow dangerous, that abortion care is different from other kinds of medical care that nurse practitioners would be able to provide,” she said. “There have been attempts to add extra qualifications and extra rules about what kind of training would be required that really go beyond the normal process that we use when we’re evaluating if a certain procedure or a certain part of medical care is part of a nurse practitioner scope.”

SB 1375 would also set the minimum standards for the transition-to-practice (TTP) period—or the period during which a nurse practitioner is clinically trained and mentored—to 4,600 hours, or 3 full-time equivalent years. According to analysis from the California Health Care Foundation, this TTP period would be among the most “robust” in the country, as 16 of the 30 other states that allow nurse practitioners to practice independently don’t require any TTP period at all, and 8 of the 30 require a TTP period of 2,400 hours or less. 

“Those of us who support the advancement of [the nurse practitioner] practice are saying, ‘We’ve already established through data that [abortions] are something that nurse practitioners can do really, really safely,’” Dieseldorf said. “So it’s important to remove those barriers to practice. The hope is that this will allow nurse practitioners to respond to the needs in their community, to be able to have more flexibility in getting the training that they want and need to be able to provide [abortion services] as part of their regular medical care.”

Dieseldorf emphasized what she described as California’s leadership in reproductive health care access.

“We shouldn’t be treating abortion differently in our laws compared to other kinds of medical care … We want to make it as easy as possible for [those traveling from out of state] to get the basic, safe, compassionate reproductive health care that they need.”

SB 1375 currently awaits a third reading on the Assembly Floor after passing the Senate.