Wisconsin has become the latest US state to take up a draconian antiabortion bill. Lawmakers are considering legislation that would prevent the state-funded university from providing resident physicians with abortion-procedure training.
On July 18, state Republicans held a public hearing to debate the bill, which would bar University of Wisconsin physicians from providing abortion training anywhere other than a hospital. Crucially, OB-GYN residents in Wisconsin need to complete abortion training to be accredited by the state. The university warned this week that, if passed, the bill could not only drive potential students away from the school's medical program, but could also make abortions — and women's health care, in general — even more difficult to obtain in the state.
Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst at the reproductive-rights think-tank Guttmacher Institute, points out that just four percent of abortions are performed in hospitals. "The vast majority of abortions take place in a clinic setting," she tells POPSUGAR. "Having that kind of caveat around hospitals [in the bill] doesn't really preserve any option."
Performing abortions at University of Wisconsin is already illegal, and medical staff train residents at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Madison, the state capital. But supporters of Assembly Bill 206, which was introduced in April, want restrictions to go even further.
"Currently, Planned Parenthood pays the UW for the provision of abortion by the UW doctors, contractually acting as UW doctors at Planned Parenthood's abortion facility," the bill's author, Representative Andre Jacque, said on Monday. James Linn, an OB-GYN from Milwaukee, said at the hearing that Wisconsin employees and taxpayers "should not be compliant or complacent in the killing of innocent human beings."
Nearly a dozen groups, including Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, have registered their opposition to the bill. Pro-Life Wisconsin and Wisconsin Right to Life have registered in support of it. While this type of legislature doesn't necessarily represent a new frontier for antiabortion supporters, Nash says it's a clear attempt to limit training.
"If you can severely restrict the training, you do have a much smaller pool of providers who will be able to provide abortion," says Nash. "Then you also decrease access."
While similar bills were enacted in Kansas and in Arizona, where a 2011 law bars public and tuition money from being spent on abortion training, Nash says Assembly Bill 206 goes beyond that. The bill states that University of Wisconsin employees, or those who work for the university's hospitals, cannot, in the scope of their employment, perform or assist in performing an abortion; perform services at a private entity, other than a hospital, where abortions are performed; or train others to perform abortions or receive training in performing abortions, unless the training occurs at a hospital. The bill does state that said employees aren't prohibited from "activities done outside the scope of employment at and without the use of funds or property of the University of Wisconsin System or the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority."
"This kind of bill really has a huge impact, not only on the services provided at UW, but also the women who not only need abortions but who need to access follow-up care," says Nash. "Women need to be able to know that their providers have been trained to provide services during childbearing years."
"Wisconsin already faces a serious shortage of OB-GYN providers, especially in rural areas," Nicole Safar, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, said in a statement sent to POPSUGAR. "According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), more than one-third of counties in Wisconsin lack an OB-GYN physician. This bill would only exacerbate this shortage, meaning even less women in Wisconsin would have access to the critical health care they need, including prenatal and maternity care."
In addition to discouraging future doctors by setting up hoops for medical students to jump through, perhaps the most chilling aspect of the bill is that it continues to stigmatize and delegitimize abortion, which is a legitimate, legal, and, in some cases, life-saving medical procedure. Abortions are common; about one million are performed in the US every year.
Robert Golden, dean of the UW School of Medicine, said earlier this week that the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Students requires that OB-GYN programs provide training — or access to training — in abortion care as part of the curriculum. Roughly 20 percent of UW's medical students choose to opt-out of such training on moral or religious grounds. Currently, women in Wisconsin are required to undergo an ultrasound before an abortion, and the provider must show and describe the image to the patient. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 96 percent of the state's counties lack clinics that provide abortions; 67 percent of the state's women live in those counties.