Oct 17 (Reuters) - North Carolina abortion providers on Monday asked a state court to allow health professionals other than physicians to provide medication abortions, as clinics struggle to accommodate an influx of abortion patients from across the U.S. South.
Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective filed a motion seeking temporary relief from a state law that bans "advanced practice clinicians," including nurse practitioners and physician assistants, from providing abortions.
The motion was filed in a 2020 lawsuit challenging several abortion restrictions in North Carolina.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24 overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that established federal abortion rights, states across the U.S. Southeast have banned or severely restricted abortion, forcing thousands of patients to travel for the procedure.
Planned Parenthood abortion clinics in North Carolina, which permits abortion up to 20 weeks, have seen their proportion of out-of-state patients spike from 15% to more than a third since the June ruling, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic said.
Twenty-nine states require a physician to provide procedural and medication abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights advocacy research group. Three states limit procedural abortions to physicians but allow other non-physician clinicians to provide medication abortions.
Medication abortion consists of a two-pill regimen that is federally approved to be taken up to 10 weeks of pregnancy.
Bill Pincus, president of anti-abortion group North Carolina Right to Life, said in a statement that advanced practice clinicians may not have the knowledge necessary to provide abortions.
"Planned Parenthood is using the judiciary to circumvent laws passed by the North Carolina General Assembly," he wrote.
Wait times for appointments at Planned Parenthood's clinics have extended out to three weeks in North Carolina cities like Asheville and Winston-Salem, said nurse practitioner Anne Logan Bass, who works for Planned Parenthood in Virginia and North Carolina.
Relief from the restrictions on advanced practice clinicians would let clinics provide abortions to more patients in a timely manner, she said.
"We could immediately start to increase access in North Carolina, because we have all of these advanced practice clinicians - nurse midwives, nurse practitioners - and they're super qualified and ready and able," Bass said in an interview.
Advanced care practitioners like Bass are currently authorized to provide the same medications needed for abortion in cases of miscarriage management and intrauterine device insertion in North Carolina. Bass said she already provides medication abortions in Virginia, where it is legal.
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