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SACRAMENTO – A taxpayer-funded pilot program in California is training people who are not physicians to do first-trimester vacuum aspiration surgical abortions – with as little as two days of instruction – and now a judge is protecting the names of everyone involved.

In his May 17 decision, Judge Evelio Grillo denied the Life Legal Defense Foundation’s petition for a writ of mandate to require release of the names of physicians, clinicians and stakeholders who participated in the pilot project conducted by the University of California San Francisco/Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health.

“[T]he court finds that the public interest in withholding the names of the Clinicians outweighs the public interest in disclosing those names,” the decision states. “First, there is a public interest in protecting persons who provide abortion services from harassment. … Second, the public has an interest in academic research, and that interest may be compromised if research participants cannot participate with the assurance that their privacy will be protected.”

Dana Cody, executive director of Life Legal Defense Foundation, told WND, “There’s a $3.5 million grant, and we don’t know who the money is from. Then there’s other funding from the taxpayers. We filed a writ, and the court held that they did not have to disclose the names of clinicians and went on to justify it by saying there are safety concerns.

“We feel that the names are necessary because we need to know who’s doing the training. When the project’s own documents show that the injury rate is 80 percent more than when physicians perform abortions, there are some concerns there.”

The pilot project is estimated to have affected at least 8,000 patients. It was used to justify Senate Bill 1338 introduced earlier this year by California Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego. The bill would allow people who are not physicians – nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants and certified nurse midwives – to perform abortions after two to five days of training provided through the project.

Sponsors of the legislation included Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, and it had the backing of the leaders of both houses of the Legislature.

S.B. 1338 passed the state Senate Public Safety Committee on a 4-2 vote but stalled in the Senate. It failed on a 4-4 vote in the Business & Professions Committee on April 26 and was withdrawn by Kehoe on May 4 because it lacked sufficient votes.

However, Cody fears the battle is not over yet. Bills are often revived and approved late in the state’s legislative session.

“It’s still floating around in the Legislature,” she said. “It could come up at any time. We’re hoping that by drawing attention to this, the public will stay in touch with the committees and their respective Legislature. If it does make it to the floor, don’t vote for this. It’s not safe.”

Meanwhile, Cody said Life Legal Defense Foundation is appealing the judge’s decision to withhold the names of those involved in the project.

“The objective is to take them to the Legislature and say, ‘Take a look at these people and who is training,’” she explained. “We suspect from what we have been able to find out that Planned Parenthood is doing the training and another clinic, Women’s Health Services.”

She believes Judge Grillo’s decision does not follow California Supreme Court case law.

“There’s a specific case from the California Supreme Court that said – in the identical situation, but it was police officers – the names must be disclosed,” Cody said. “You don’t have to give out personal data, but you must disclose the names. So not only is this not following statute, but it’s not following California Supreme Court case law.”

Cody added, “It’s just not right. Women deserve better. They deserve better than abortion, and they certainly deserve better than abortion by people who are not trained physicians.”

Life Legal Defense Foundation has published the following fact sheet about the potential troubles with S.B. 1338, which provides reasons why the group believes the public records disclosure is necessary:

  • No independent academic involvement or peer review: The project was orchestrated not by an independent academic source but by vested interest agents at UCSF’s Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, directed by Dr. Philip Darney. The Bixby Center itself was the beneficiary of project funds. The California Nurses Association has objected that there was no independent peer review of this project
  • Dubious funding: The project to train non-physician abortionists was primarily financed by a major ($3.5 million) donor whom UCSF refuses to identify. Why is this donor being kept anonymous? Will it be an embarrassment to the Legislature if/when the identity of the donor who effectively paid for this law is revealed? As to Project expenditures, UCSF/Bixby Center has NOT provided an accounting for two-thirds of the $3.9 million collected for the project, despite a Public Records Act request.
  • Bad policy, bad law: S.B.1338 has now been narrowed so that only the 41 persons who participated in the project will get the benefit of legal protection from prosecution. It is illegal for non-physicians in California to perform surgical abortion. S.B.1338 elevates this one privately and anonymously funded project, HWPP #171, to the status of a state policy, determining who is and is not guilty of a crime. This is a bad way to make law.
  • No professional oversight: Neither the Medical Board of California nor the Nursing Board had any oversight of the project.
  • Greater harm to girls and women, including increased complications: The project reported in December 2011 an 80 percent increase in complications when non-physicians performed surgical abortions. No explanation was given as to why complications increased. They reported that these complications included “incomplete abortion, failed abortion, hemorrhage/excessive bleeding, hematometra, infection, cervical injury, and uterine perforation. The non-physicians had a reported 141 total complications for women while the physicians had 78 complications.
  • Lack of physician oversight for contraindicated conditions: The project reported that several hundred of the patients sampled were deemed ineligible to participate in the project by the supervising physicians, because of various conditions including medical abnormalities and incomplete surgical or medication abortions. Under S.B. 1338, there will be no “supervising physician” to screen out these at-risk patients.
  • Merely one week of training: According to the project’s “Early Abortion Training Workbook,” the entire training period for each non-physician abortionist was only “2-5 days of simulated and hands on training” to perform 20-50 first trimester surgical abortions.

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