New California abortion law: More dangerous than skydiving?

At a time when so many states are chipping away at reproductive rights, making it nearly impossible for women to exercise their constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy, how refreshing to see California standing up for women’s rights.

On Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that gives some medical professionals who are not doctors the right to perform early abortions.

The bill, introduced by Democratic Assemblywoman Toni Atkins of San Diego, followed a years-long pilot program involving more than 11,000 women who underwent first-trimester abortions. Half of the procedures were done by physicians, the other half by nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives and physician assistants.


“The first major conclusion is that abortion is incredibly safe no matter who performed it,” wrote Tracy Weitz, a medical sociologist and researcher at UC San Francisco’s Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, which oversaw the program. “Fewer than 2% of all patients required any additional care after the initial abortion.”

She noted that only six of 11,487 patients (less than 0.05%) needed any hospital-based care. Three of those had been seen by physicians and three by the other types of health professionals. All recovered without any long-term physical harm, she noted.

The low complication rate, of course, did not stop antiabortion groups from rallying against the bill, including some who used breathtakingly disingenuous arguments.

Last May, for instance, Steve Macias, a California Republican Party officer and executive director of the antiabortion group Cherish California’s Children, said the new law would legalize back-alley abortions. He also claimed that first-trimester abortions are more dangerous than skydiving.

“This isn’t about whether abortion is wrong or right,” said Macias, in a video posted last May on YouTube. “We believe that this bill will hurt and potentially even kill women in this state…. We were told that abortion should be legal so that we can prevent back-alley abortions, but what this bill does is create back-alley abortions. It’s taking what they consider safe and legal and making it dangerous and dirty.”

Nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives and physician assistants will no doubt be thrilled to hear their training, licensing processes and workplaces described this way.

Macias’s argument is so far-fetched that it undermines what might have been a statement of principled opposition. The California Catholic Conference, equally dismayed by the new legislation, at least made a logically defensible argument against it, expressing its belief that in California, access to abortion providers is not a pressing issue.

“Although 22% of California counties have no abortion provider,” the group said on its blog last month, “only 1% of women live in those counties. In addition, in June and July of 2013, volunteers called abortion facilities all over the state and were offered appointments on the same day or in a few cases, within a week.”

(That ignores the fact that a week can be a critical length of time for a pregnant woman in her first trimester.)

The CCC also noted, correctly, that the complication rate for physicians in the UC San Francisco study was half the rate of complications for non-physicians, 0.9% vs 1.8%, a fact that researchers did not find troublesome. (“This slightly higher number among newly trained providers was expected and is not clinically significant,” Weitz wrote.)

But abortion foes like Macias really undermine their cause when they come up with with doozies like this one:

“We looked up the statistics for jumping out of an airplane in a parachute,” he said on his video. “And the rate of mortality there — 1 in 100,000 people die from jumping out of an airplane with a parachute. Then we looked at what this bill is trying to do. [AB] 154 is trying to allow aspiration abortions, and the risk there is 1 in 100 women will suffer bleeding, tearing, infection from this type of an abortion. So it’s 1,000 times more dangerous to have this aspiration abortion than it is to jump out of an airplane with a parachute.”

This happens infrequently, but I am speechless.


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Twitter: @robinabcarian