AB 154, a bill in the California Legislature that would allow nurse practitioners, midwives and physician’s assistants to perform some early abortions, won’t be controversial with most supporters of legal abortion. But it severs a connection between abortion rights and the practice of medicine that played an important role in the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
The supposedly indispensable role of the doctor in abortion decisions also has figured in the defense of abortion rights by politicians, including those who say the procedure should be rare -- such as Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Roe vs. Wade, handed down in 1973, was written by Justice Harry Blackmun, a former general counsel to the Mayo Clinic. Although Roe grounded the right of abortion in a constitutional guarantee of privacy, Blackmun’s opinion also emphasized that abortion was a medical decision.
“For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman's attending physician,” Blackmun wrote, adding, “The decision vindicates the right of the physician to administer medical treatment according to his professional judgment.”