California Senate leader Toni Atkins sponsors bill to allow physician assistants to perform abortions


Hannah Saunders


Sen. Toni Atkins (D – San Diego) is building upon her previous legislation on reproductive healthcare services this year through Senate Bill 385, which would expand and modernize reproductive healthcare training for physician assistants by allowing them to perform abortions. 

“This year, as we watch other states continue to erode access to abortions, it’s clear that we need to continue to do everything we can to increase the number of trained providers available to Californians and those who need to come here for reproductive healthcare,” Atkins said.


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SB 1375— another Atkins-sponsored bill— passed last year and went into effect this year. It allows nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives to perform abortions after completing required training. SB 385 builds on that effort by applying the same training standards to physician assistants to receive training in abortion care, and it would increase access to reproductive healthcare services by further increasing the number of practitioners that are able to provide this care.

The bill would authorize physician assistants who have completed training and achieved clinical competency to perform abortions during the first trimester without the presence of a supervising physician or surgeon. 

“SB 385 will expand California’s network of abortion providers and strengthen the abortion workforce,” said Molly Robinson, vice president of government affairs at Planned Parenthood. “At a time when we are seeing attack after attack on abortion access and rights, it is imperative that California can meet the demand of patients in our state and coming to our state for abortion services.”

Atkins has a long commitment to reproductive healthcare access in California. Last year, she authored Senate Constitutional Amendment 10 to ensure access to abortions and contraceptives in the state. SCA 10 prohibits the state from denying or interfering with an individual’s reproductive freedom, including the fundamental right to choose to have an abortion. The SCA received widespread support and was approved by the majority of California voters last November. Atkins also put forth Assembly Bill 154, which allowed qualifying advanced practice providers to provide first trimester abortions and became law in 2013. 

Prior to the US Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the state of California took swift action to ensure protections are in place for individuals seeking abortions and other reproductive healthcare, as well as for their providers. The California Legislative Women’s Caucus released a 13-bill package last March to strengthen access to abortion. 

AB 1666 was signed into law and protects abortion patients and providers from civil actions and penalties they may face in the origin state where abortions are illegal. Gov. Gavin Newsom also signed AB 1918 into law, which established the California Reproductive Health Service Corps to create a diverse workforce to serve underserved areas.

Another passed bill from the package is AB 2091, which prohibits healthcare providers and plans from releasing medical information about individuals seeking or obtaining abortions in response to a subpoena based on another state’s laws that criminalize abortions. While Newsom vetoed AB 2320, he signed the remaining nine bills into law, which are AB 2134, AB 2205, AB 2223, AB 2586, AB 2626, SB 245, SB 1142, SB 1245, and SB 1375

NARAL Pro-Choice California’s director, Shannon Olivieri Hovis, expressed how SB 385 would benefit the state.

“With 17 states and counting enforcing abortion bans, California must use every tool in our toolbox to ensure people can access the care they need,” Hovis said in a statement. “While California is a Reproductive Freedom State, provider shortages continue to present barriers to abortion access. SB 385 will help grow California’s abortion provider network by expanding training opportunities for physician assistants and ensuring more PAs are able to provide abortion care.”

Hovis said that she and more than 371,000 NARAL California members look forward to fighting by Atkins’ side to make sure this bill becomes enacted into law. SB 385 is waiting to be read in the legislature, and a decision may be acted on or after March 12th, when committees are scheduled to begin meeting.