Calling it an issue of patient safety, a Senate panel voted Thursday to legally bar nurse practitioners from performing abortions.
The 4-2 vote came after Michael Urig, a Phoenix obstetrician and gynecologist, told members of the Senate Committee on Public Safety and Human Services he does not doubt they can do uncomplicated procedures, adding that even his 17-year-old son could be trained in that capacity.
He said, though, nurse practitioners are not in any way prepared for the kind of complications that can result from an "invasive surgical procedure." That, he said, requires the kind of training that comes with a four-year surgical residency program.
But Angela Golden, vice president of the Arizona Nurse Practitioner Council, said people with her kind of specialized training already do complicated procedures, including those that require a patient to be sedated.
"To suggest that nurse practitioners can't recognize complications is simply unfair," she said. And Golden, who works in Flagstaff, said any procedure performed in a clinic can result in complications. The debate in many ways transcends patient safety.
Backers of the measure admit HB2269 is aimed at Planned Parenthood - and, specifically, at the fact that more than half the abortions at the organization's Tucson clinic are performed by a nurse practitioner.
So far the state Board of Nursing, which generally determines the accepted scope of practice of regular and advanced training nurses, has yet to rule whether abortions are within the skill set of all nurse practitioners or, at the very least, those with specialized training. This measure, crafted with the help of the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy, takes the question out of the hands of the board.
Urig also admitted after the hearing he not only does not perform abortions but is personally opposed to the practice.
Foes of the bill have said it will make abortions less available, with Rep. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson, suggesting more pregnant women may turn to self-induced or "back alley" abortions.
Karen Holder, a Flagstaff nurse practitioner, said efforts by doctors to get lawmakers to trim the powers of nurse practitioners "may open Pandora's box" and start a new turf war.
The measure, which already has been approved by the House, now goes to the full Senate.
Figures for 2006 from the state Department of Health Services show there were 10,506 abortions performed in the state. Of that total, 3,088 were nonsurgical procedures which involve prescription drugs to induce abortion.