Despite 135 New Restrictions in the Past 2 Years, These 2 State Legislatures Are Pushing to Expand Abortion Rights in 2013

As someone who cares deeply about women’s access to reproductive health care, it seems all I ever hear about in the news is wave after crushing wave of laws passed by state legislatures to restrict abortion rights and contraception usage. So it brings me great pleasure to highlight two states that are boldly pushing progressive proposals to increase women’s access to reproductive justice.

In the California state legislature, Assemblywoman Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), has introduced A.B. 154 in an effort to revive last year’s attempt in the state to expand access to first-trimester abortion care by allowing more medical professionals, such as nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and physician assistants, to perform the procedure. Atkins, a former administrator at a women’s health clinic, hopes expanding the number of providers will reduce wait and travel times for patients.

Last year Governor Brown signed a similar (but watered-down) version of the bill, which allowed a small number of medical professionals involved in a pilot program to begin providing these essential health services to uninsured women, women of color, low-income women, and rural women, who have the least access to this care. A new UCSF study on the safety of first-trimester abortions performed by nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and physician assistants will likely bring many medical groups, like California’s Nurses Association, on board. By increasing access to first-trimester abortions, California will make abortion care safer and less costly. (In contrast, many states with anti-choice legislatures are creating odious restrictions on access to early abortion care, which will lead to a rise in riskier, late-term abortions.)

Meanwhile in New York, Governor Cuomo announced in his “State of the State” address that he will be pushing for the Women’s Equality Agenda, which, among other things, seeks to pass the long stalled New York Reproductive Health Act.

The Reproductive Health Act would do three major things. First, it would move law regulating abortion care from the criminal code to the public health code, to ensure that it is regulated as a matter of medical practice rather than as a potential crime, so that women's health care decisions are overseen by doctors instead of politicians. Next, it will bolster a woman’s right to make personal, private decisions about her pregnancy when her health is endangered. Finally, it will affirm all New Yorkers’ rights to use or refuse contraception.

While certain Republican New York state senators have come out against the Reproductive Health Act in particular, it is likely the entire package, which includes provisions about pay equity, sexual harassment, and sex trafficking, will pass.

Now, folks may poo-poo the fact that California and New York are two of the most liberal states in the Union, but they weren’t actually the most pro-abortion states just last year, according to Americans United for Life. That title went to Washington. And Oregon is the only state that has not added restrictions to abortion access beyond those laid out in Roe v. Wade.

New York and California are leading the charge to expand abortion rights in the state legislatures, where in the recent past we have seen an avalanche of restrictions on access to health care and women’s equality. Hopefully other states that believe in the rights to privacy and dignity of all their citizens will follow suit.