SAN DIEGO (CNS) — Senate President pro-Tempore Toni G. Atkins, D-San Diego, Thursday announced she has introduced a bill intended to clarify existing law allowing nurse practitioners meeting specified criteria to practice without physician supervision -- including first-trimester abortion care.
Senate Bill 1375 is intended to help address the shortage of health care professionals and complement recommendations from the California Future of Abortion Council as a way to strengthen abortion care, Atkins said.
"With an increasing shortage of providers, far too many Californians are struggling to get the care they need, when they need it," she said. "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."
The bill would widen access and affordability to abortion services and health care by increasing the number of nurse practitioners able to provide care, especially among underrepresented and lower-income communities. It would clarify provisions set forth in law by Assemblyman Jim Wood's, D-Santa Rosa, Assembly Bill 890 and Atkins' own AB 154, which was signed into law in 2013.
SB 1375 would clarify that nurse practitioners who have been practicing for three or more years satisfy the requirement established in AB 890, and could also utilize prior practice experience to satisfy the requirement.
"Senate President Pro Tempore Atkins has long been a champion of increasing access to health care, especially women's reproductive rights," said Wood, a principal co-author on SB 1375. "Given that too many states are passing laws restricting a woman's right to choose, I am proud to coauthor SB 1375, which will maximize the ability of our professional nurse practitioners to help women get the care they need."
The bill would expand on Atkins' AB 154, which increased the types of trained health professionals who can provide early abortions by allowing nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives, and physician assistants to perform early abortions safely within the terms of their licenses. SB 1375 would update statutes relating to early abortion services to allow nurse practitioners qualified to practice independently to provide first-trimester abortion care.
"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 patients' needs are always first and foremost," said Patti Gurney, president of the California Association for Nurse Practitioners.
According to a projection by the California Future of Health Workforce Commission, within the next decade, California will face a shortfall of more than 4,100 primary care clinicians, with a disproportionate impact on the 7 million Californians living in counties already experiencing shortfalls of primary care, dental care or mental health care providers. The majority of which are Latino, Black, and Native American.
"Families who live in clinic deserts found throughout the state have a particularly difficult time accessing primary care because there simply are not enough providers available to them. Nurse practitioners can help fill that growing need," Atkins said. "When nurse practitioners are able to work independently, underserved communities -- which are predominantly communities of color -- benefit from an increase in access to services."