As the rest of the country is busy restricting safe and legal access to abortion with mandatory waiting periods, costly clinic restrictions and by targeting doctors, California has become a beacon for reproductive justice and health.
Last week, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 154, legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, which now authorizes trained Nurse Practitioners (NPs), Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs) and Physician Assistants (PAs) to provide first-trimester abortions under the terms of their licenses (these same providers can already offer abortion with medications). The governor also signed AB 980, which allows abortion facilities to meet the same standards as primary care clinics. With nearly half of California counties lacking an accessible abortion provider, these new laws will help alleviate challenges that many women in our communities face when trying to access abortion services.
Women in rural areas often have to travel long distances to obtain care. This can mean taking extra time off work and finding extended childcare. At the same time, community clinics in urban areas (particularly communities of color) are overburdened, with as many as 1 provider to 2,000 patients in some areas. Women who need an abortion might have to wait a week or longer to get an appointment and then still might spend all day waiting to be seen. Again, this means taking more time off work or studies. Delays can complicate risk and second trimester procedures can be more cost-prohibitive for many poor and uninsured Black women and Latin@s.
And while there’s still a common misconception that abortion is a white woman’s issue, these new laws are particularly important wins for communities of color.
Some may argue that women of color have more pressing causes (education, economic security, criminal “justice”) to champion. No one wants to have a conversation about something that’s being billed as racial “genocide.” And others assume that religiosity means that abortion is not a topic of interest in Latin@* and Black communities. But abortion is a real experience for more than one in three Black women and a quarter of Latina women in the U.S. Therefore, access to abortion services is an important issue in those communities of color.
Furthermore, allowing a larger group of health care professionals to offer early abortion care is one way to reduce health care disparity and increase continuity of care as this allows better coordinated reproductive health care. According to Pew Research, nearly a quarter of non-Hispanic Blacks ages 18-69 are living in poverty, and for Latin@s, it’s 1 in 5 – therefore many are accessing health care via primary care settings, such as clinics. Given that advanced practice nurses and physician assistants deliver the majority of well-woman care in primary care settings, they are the providers many women of color become familiar with, along with the clinic itself. With these news laws, women may now access abortion services from a trusted provider.
And although most people are rightly concerned about safety, a five-year University of California San Francisco study showed that trained health professionals can safely provide early abortions and that women appreciated receiving care in their own communities. The study results, recently published this year in the American Journal of Public Health, showed the same low complication rate for abortions performed by NPs/CNMs/PAs and doctors. It is also important to point out that first trimester abortions are one of the safest types of medical procedures in the U.S.
Given these facts, most people who are stating these laws will compromise the safety of women are saying this not because they care about women, but because they seek to make abortion illegal. And despite conservative rhetoric and skewed statistics, two-thirds of black Americans in this country believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. More than eight in 10 Latin@s interviewed for a California Latinas for Reproductive Justice (CLRJ) study believe that Latinas should have the right to decide for themselves the number and spacing of their children. These findings indicate that Black and Latin@ communities in fact DO support a full range of reproductive health services, including abortion services.
Additionally, these findings offer a more accurate picture of our community’s views on reproductive and sexual health issues as a whole. While some Black and Latin@ folk may be conservative or religious and may not support abortion services and/or other reproductive health care, they DO NOT reflect or represent the multidimensional values, experiences or voting outcomes of our entire communities.
Unlike the myths perpetuated by myopic conservative groups, these laws truly reflect a significant health care priority for many Black women and Latin@s in California. Therefore, we consider this a great victory for our families and communities and we look forward to passing more legislation that increases comprehensive reproductive health care not just for women in California – but for ALL women throughout the nation!
*Latin@ is used in acknowledgement of the full spectrum of identities in our communities.