April 26, 2012 Print
State of California

Abortion-Standards Bill Falters

by Karla Dial

A California Senate committee today stalled a bill that would allow nonphysicians to perform first-trimester suction abortions, shooting it down on a 4-4 vote.

SB 1338, sponsored by Sen. Christine Kehoe of San Diego, sought to allow midwives, nurse practitioners and physicians assistants to perform abortions without medical supervision. On Tuesday, the Senate Public Safety Committee approved the measure, but amended it so that only 41 nonphysicians taking part in an as-yet incomplete five-year pilot training program could perform them.

But today’s 4-4 vote in the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee didn’t decisively end the matter: The committee granted a reconsideration, which will bring it back for another vote on May 4.

Suction abortions involve inserting a cutting tool into the womb, which dismembers the preborn baby’s body. The remains are then evacuated through a suction tube into a bottle.

The pilot program training midwives, nurse practitioners and physicians assistants to perform abortions is led by Tracy Weitz, a professor at the University of California-San Francisco, but underwritten by the John Merck Fund, which has made large donations in the past to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Choice USA.

Weitz testified that “nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives and physician assistants can safely perform aspiration abortions in California.” But because of the risk of perforating the uterus or incompletely evacuating the fetal remains, pro-life advocates say the risks remain high — much higher than the study would lead people to believe.

“They consist of incomplete abortion, failed abortion, hemorrhage, excessive bleeding, anesthesia-related complications, infection, cervical injury including cervical tear, and uterine injury which rarely requires hysterectomy,” said Dr. Linda Halderman, a surgeon who is also a member of the General Assembly.

Board-certified surgeons report complication rates of 3 to 5 percent with suction abortions, Halderman said. But the study participants reported complications in only 1.6 percent of the abortions they performed.

“This is so outside the standard of research care that I am concerned that there may be violations here that are of the legal magnitude,” Halderman said.

The California Nurses Association, which usually leans left on abortion issues, called SB 1338 “ill-conceived and unnecessary.” In a letter, the bishops of the California Catholic Conference said that “in the name of enhancing access, convenience and cost-savings, this bill will do nothing to make abortion ‘safe and rare.’ ”

“You don’t have to be anti-abortion to oppose this attempt to lower the standard of health care for women and girls based not on completed scientific evidence but on ideology and financial gain,” wrote political watchdog Margaret A. Bengs in an April 21 Sacramento Bee op-ed.

Read California SB 1338.