Abortion opponents got the green light on Thursday to begin gathering signatures for two voter referenda for the November ballot that would seek to overturn a pair of state laws that expand access to abortions in California.
The Secretary of State approved proponent Laurette Elsberry's request for a title and summary on the two referenda, one challenging AB 154 and the other AB 980. Both bills were signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Oct. 9, but California's referendum system allows voters to challenge laws passed by the state legislature within 90 days if enough citizens sign a petition.
Elsberry will need to gather 504,760 signatures for each referendum by Jan. 7, 2014, in order to get them on the ballot. Voters would then decide in each case whether to repeal the law or allow it to stand.
AB 980 will repeal regulations that impose different building and licensing standards on primary care clinics if they provide abortion services. AB 154 will permit nurse practitioners and other non-physicians with a valid license and training to perform certain types of first-trimester abortions.
AB 154 stems from a six-year pilot program at the University of California, San Francisco where nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwifes and physician assistants performed aspiration abortions, according to U-T San Diego:
A study of the results from 8,000 procedures found that there was no escalated risk of complications.
Aspiration is a type of abortion that involves vacuum or suction as part of the procedure. National surveys suggest that nine out of every 10 abortions occur in the first trimester.
The bill's author, San Diego Democratic Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, said it will “ensure that no woman has to travel excessively long distances or wait for long periods in order to obtain an early abortion," the Daily Breeze reports.
One opponent of that measure — Bishop Gerald Wilkerson, president of the California Catholic Conference — contends that the new law will "effectively create a two-tier health system."
"Physician assistants, nurse practitioners and nurse midwives — with eight week's training — can now perform first trimester abortions in primary care clinics not designed for surgery. Most of their clients will be women and girls who are poor, whereas women and girls with means will seek out physicians with surgical skills and hospital admitting privileges for their abortions," Wilkerson wrote in a statement after Brown signed the bill in October.
If history is any indication, opponents of the two laws face an uphill battle. Since 1966, citizens have pitched measures limiting abortion rights to voters at least 29 times, according to data kept by the Secretary of State's office. Only three of those campaigns gathered enough signatures to appear on the ballot. All three were attempts to require parental notification when minors seeks to receive an abortion, and in all three cases, voters rejected the measures.