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War of Words Over Abortion Clinics Only Interruption in Quiet March of Bill Passage

The Senate this week passed a bill to change building requirements for primary care clinics that provide abortions.

AB 980 by Assembly member Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) was the only health-related legislation that generated much heat on the Senate floor. And it was over building codes.

“This bill simply creates parity in building standards between primary care clinics that provide abortions and other primary care clinics,” said Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), who presented the bill on the Senate floor. “This assures all clinics will be held to equal and appropriate standards.”

The problem, de León said, is that variations in building codes can actually be arbitrary or unfair, simply because of a clinic’s abortion status.

“These types of laws are used quite frankly as a tactic to impede access … to reproductive health care,” de León said. “They do nothing to improve safety or quality of care.”

Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) begged to differ.

“It’s not much of an exaggeration to say this bill takes abortions back to the back alleys,” Nielsen said. He said building standards are the purview of occupational safety boards, not the Legislature. “This bill is an end run to escape that kind of scrutiny,” he said. “This isn’t a casual thing. Lives are in danger here. The life of the mother, the life of the child.”

Sen. Ted Gaines (R-Roseville) echoed the emphasis on women’s health.

“I’m very concerned about putting women at risk,” Gaines said. “When we put in statute a lower standard of safety, that puts the woman at risk.”

But according to Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), there’s no lowering of standards, and women’s health isn’t threatened, but instead improved by greater access to reproductive health services.

“My reading of the bill is that it calls for elimination of duplicative and unnecessary licensing and building standards that seem to be targeting clinics,” Pavley said. “This bill makes sure they’re held to the same standards as other primary care clinics.”

The Senate faced similar rhetoric when it passed AB 154 by Assembly member Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) on Aug. 30. That bill would enable mid-level practitioners to perform aspiration abortions in the first trimester, when supervised by a physician.

AB 980 passed the Senate floor on a 25-12 vote, and now heads to the Assembly for concurrence of Senate amendments before it goes to the governor.

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