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NJ expands access to abortions by midwives, physician assistants

By Erin Vogt

Originally published to NJ 101.5 on December 6, 2021

New Jersey has officially adopted new rules that allow an expanded approach to abortions, following the unanimous vote by the state Board of Medical Examiners back in October.

The changes eliminate "medically unnecessary" regulations on abortion, by allowing for in-office terminations beyond 14 weeks of a pregnancy, as feasible.

It also clears the way for advanced practice nurses, physician assistants and certified nurse midwives and certified midwives to provide "aspiration" abortion care, in addition to doctors.

Those medical professionals already are permitted to provide medication-based termination of pregnancy in New Jersey.

As of December, there were about 11,024 advanced practice nurses, 4,379 physician assistants, 363 certified nurse midwives and 15 certified midwives in New Jersey who may be authorized to perform the procedure in the future, state officials said.

“At a time when our country is on the verge of severely limiting access to reproductive health care, New Jersey is prioritizing the expansion of these critical services,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in a written statement on Monday.

“Removing outdated barriers to care ensures that all New Jerseyans have equitable access to reproductive health care.”

Not the Reproductive Freedom Act

This is a separate matter than the proposed Reproductive Freedom Act, which has stalled in the Legislature. That proposal would take on the lack of state law in New Jersey codifying abortion rights.

The measure was first introduced in the state Senate and Assembly in October 2020.

While Murphy has repeatedly voiced support and said that he’d sign the RFA into law, there is no indication that a vote would send it to his desk before 2022.

Outdated rule changes

"The changes being adopted today will ensure more New Jersey residents have access to vital reproductive care," Dr. Scott E. Metzger, president of the State Board of Medical Examiners, said in a written statement on Monday.

“A great deal of time and effort goes into reviewing every regulatory proposal before the Board, and its unanimous decision signals it was time to implement changes to allow additional qualified professionals to provide needed abortion care."

The Board’s vote in September 2020 was based on recommendations made in late 2018 by a subcommittee.

That panel had examined how New Jersey’s current regulations measure up to recent case law as well as advances in the medical field.

A law passed in New York in 2019 similarly extended the range of qualified medical professionals able to see patients seeking abortions.

A 2013 study led by the University of California San Francisco found first trimester abortions were just as safe when performed by either physicians or trained nurse practitioners, physician assistants and certified nurse midwives.

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