California bucks national trend by passing reproductive health policies that are based on actual science!

California lawmakers let evidence guide their policies. This is a sadly novel thing to do in America right now

Published March 7, 2014 9:02PM (EST)

                                     (ProgressOhio via Flickr Creative Commons)
(ProgressOhio via Flickr Creative Commons)

Barely a day passes without some news of lawmakers somewhere in the country working to rollback reproductive rights, leaving millions of people across the country without meaningful access to basic medical care like contraception and abortion. But last year, California actually bucked the trend by passing a measure to expand access by allowing nurses, midwives and other medical professionals to perform early abortions.

As I noted at the time, the law significantly broadens the pool of available medical professionals able to perform the procedure, and, crucially, expands access in rural areas where providers can be scarce.

“We are trending in a different direction, and we’re very proud of it,” Toni Atkins, the state assemblywoman who wrote the bill, remarked at the time. “This is an issue of accessibility. California is a very large state, and more than half the counties don’t have an abortion provider.”

In addition to expanding access at a time of record restrictions, California is also trailblazing by basing its reproductive health laws on actual science and the needs of Californians.

As Irin Carmon reports at MSNBC reports, Tracy Weitz, a medical sociologist at the University of California, San Francisco who testified in support of the measure, saw that her colleagues at San Francisco General Hospital were serving an "extraordinarily high" number of patients later in gestation who were coming from places throughout California with fewer providers. Later term abortions raise the risk of potential complications, and are also far more costly than an abortion earlier in a pregnancy.

For Weitz, the plain necessity of a bill to expand the pool of qualified providers was "in the disparity in the number of low-income women geographically located in [remote areas] … who do not access their abortion until later in the second trimester,” she explained.

So California lawmakers, contrary to standard practice in dozens of states across the country, opted to let the actual needs on the ground -- supported by significant evidence indicating that allowing nurses and midwives to perform early abortions is perfectly safe -- guide reproductive health policy.

The sad novelty of such a position is not lost on supporters of the California law.

Doing so makes California “one of the few states whose reproductive health laws are based on science,” according to ACLU of Northern California Staff Attorney Maggie Crosby.

You can read more on how the change has played out in California at MSNBC.


By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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Abortion Abortion Care Abortion Services California Midwives Nurses Roe V. Wade