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HONOLULU (KHON) — Gov. David Ige on Monday signed legislation that would make Hawaii the latest state to allow some nurses to perform abortions.

Hawaii law previously said only physicians could perform early, in-clinic abortions. But because of a doctor shortage, several smaller islands lack abortion providers, forcing residents of those islands to fly to Honolulu if they need the procedure.

The new law, which took effect when the governor signed it, allows advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) to prescribe medication to end a pregnancy and to perform an aspiration abortion, a type of minor surgery during which a vacuum is used to empty a woman’s uterus. The nurses will be able to do both during the first trimester of pregnancy. The aspiration abortion may be performed in a hospital, clinic or nurse’s office.

APRNs are nurses who have obtained at least a master’s degree and are trained and certified to diagnose and manage patient problems and prescribe medications. Nurses must have a valid license, prescriptive authority and specialize in the medical practice.

“It really will make life a lot better for folks on the neighbor islands who find that they need abortion services,” said Sen. Rosalyn Baker, chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection.

Baker said the bill, which is limited to nonviable fetuses, helps women have the necessary control over their bodies.

“By enabling the APRNs to practice to the top of their license, I think this is really going to be an important measure for all of us here in our state,” she said.

According to Laura Reichardt, director of Hawai‘i State Center for Nursing, APRNs have more than doubled since 2005 in the state.

“Though they have, by state law, the authority to practice to the fullest extent of their education and training, there are some laws that still provide barriers to accessing care for the people of Hawaii,” Reichardt said.

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted those barriers and challenges of abortion care, including a shortage of providers, unnecessary travel, long wait times, high costs and delays to time-sensitive care and travel that make access extremely difficult, the bill says.

Several states already allow this category of nurse to perform medication or aspiration abortions. They include California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Virginia, Vermont and West Virginia.

Hawaii has a long track record of favoring abortion rights. In 1970, it became the first state in the nation to allow abortion at a woman’s request.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.