Equal Access to Abortion Act Signed into Law in Hawaiʻi
* Updated April 13, 10:50 AM
Governor David Ige signed House Bill 576 into law on Monday, April 12, expanding abortion access across the state. The Equal Access to Abortion Act expands access by allowing Advanced Practice Registered Nurses to provide abortion services. Previously, only physicians were allowed to provide abortion.
Senator Rosalyn Baker of Maui, chair, Senate Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection was among those present at today’s bill signing event. She said, “it really will make life a lot better for folks on the neighbor islands who find that they need abortion services. Abortion services in the State of Hawaiʻi have been legal since John A. Burns was governor; and I think it’s an important part of health care for women.”
She continued saying, “It helps women have the control over their bodies that is necessary and I think it’s also most appropriate that it is limited to non-viable fetuses. I think this takes some of the concern out of the discussion and it’s really important for those of us on the neighbor islands who have limited access to either APRN or physician care. And by enabling the APRNs to practice to the top of their license, I think this is really going to be a very important measure for all of us here in our state.”
Dr. Reni Soon, family planning practitioner and associate professor, John A. Burns School of Medicine said, “Hawaiʻi has a proud history of being on the forefront of reproductive health care. We recognize that when people have control over if and when they have children, they are more fully able to participate in society.”
Dr. Soon is an abortion provider who files twice a month to Maui to provide abortion care. “We know that legality is only one part of access. And today, despite the legality of abortion care, there are many in our state who can’t access this care. As I mentioned, a couple of us fly to Maui twice a month because there are no abortion providers on Maui. Folks from Kauaʻi, Molokai, Lānaʻi–have to fly to access this basic health care.”
“Last spring when travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic went into effect, we couldn’t fly for a few months and there was no access to abortion care on Maui for several months. The fact is the handful of physicians who provide abortion care are on Oʻahu and patients have to travel to get that care. And that’s been made all the more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Dr. Soon explained that a woman from Maui was calling her office on Oʻahu several times trying to make an appointment to get an abortion. “She had a medical condition in which pregnancy was endangering her health; but she was concerned about COVID exposure when she traveled and was worried that she might need to quarantine when she returned home. And as a mom, with kids depending on her, she couldn’t afford that. She never came to Oʻahu for her procedure; I don’t know what happened to her. I don’t know if she ever got the health care that she needed. This would not have happened if there were more abortion providers on Maui. And this law will make that a reality.”
Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates – Hawai‘i also praised the official passage of the bill. The group contends that APRNs are qualified to provide abortion services, an opinion they say is in line with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Public Health Association.
Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates – Hawai‘i state director, Laurie Field, provided the following statement:
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“We are thrilled about the implications this has for the people of Hawaiʻi, especially those on islands who face obstacles of having to travel long distances to reach a physician for reproductive health care. Expanding the number of medical professionals who can provide abortion will lower wait times, reduce the need to travel and put abortion access within reach for many people.
“Poor access to vital reproductive health care, including abortion, disproportionately affects communities of color, people who live on islands other than Oʻahu, people with low incomes, underinsured and uninsured individuals and people who don’t have reliable transportation. COVID-19 has exacerbated already existing barriers to access high-quality reproductive health care, and this new law is a step in the right direction to ensuring everyone in Hawaiʻi has access to care, no matter what.
“We are grateful to Governor Ige for signing House Bill 576 into law, Rep. Linda Ichiyama for sponsoring this bill and ensuring its passage, and the hundreds of supporters and volunteers who advocated for equal access to abortion. We are proud of this important step toward equitable access, and look forward to working with our elected officials on the next step to improve access to abortion for the people of Hawaiʻi.”
Hawai‘i is one of a handful of states that is proactively pursuing legislation to ensure equal access to abortion and reducing barriers to reproductive health care.