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Saturday, May 25, 2024

Women’s health in Wisconsin panel finds common ground among varied backgrounds

Members of a women's health in Wisconsin panel discussed recent restrictive abortion legislation and its consequences Thursday in an event hosted by Advocates for Choice and College Democrats of University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Consisting of all pro-choice speakers, the panel covered shifting attitudes toward abortion, birth control accessibility and socio-economic health care disparities.

Members of the panel included state Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, and Victoria Boucher of Planned Parenthood as well as Madison health care midwives Tehmina Islam and Ingrid Andersson.

The landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade made abortion legal, and panelists drew significant parallels between the state of reproductive health today and women’s health care during the pre-Roe, pre-1973 era.

“Some of the bills we’re seeing now have been around for a really long time,” Taylor said. “We’re really down there in the bottom of the barrel when it comes to access to reproductive health care.”

As of this time, there are only four abortion clinic providers in the state, according to Taylor. For women in rural areas seeking abortions, the journey to providers is daunting and sometimes even inaccessible.

Andersson recalled the way abortion services operated pre-Roe in Illinois, when they were run and paid for by the Chicago mafia. A woman would make her doctor aware that she did not want to complete her pregnancy. While the doctor, by law, could not say anything, someone in the doctor’s practice would discreetly give the woman’s phone number to outside sources able to help her.

“From there, it became a very secretive line of phone calls,” Andersson said.

Panelists warned this is the direction Wisconsin reproductive legislation is heading. So far in Gov. Scott Walker’s term, more than 10 pieces of anti-abortion legislation, classified by Taylor as “extremely invasive,” have been introduced and some enacted in various forms.

One law requires women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound before the procedure. Depending on what term the woman is in her pregnancy, this legal mandate could necessitate a transvaginal probe, the cost of which would be out-of-pocket for the uninsured, according to Taylor.

“We need to be calling [representatives] to put pressure,” Boucher said, referencing what the pro-choice movement must do to counter such legislation.

Panel speakers also asked what attendees thought regarding how accessible birth control is on campus, but most students could not answer definitively.

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“I think the fact that we can’t answer the question says a lot,” said Maggie Mehr of Advocates for Choice, said. “It’s not well publicized.”

All of the speakers urged students to remain involved in pro-choice activism, stressing the importance of coalition building.

“There are so many different perspectives, but we’re fighting for the same thing,” Islam said.

Echoing the panelists, College Democrats Vice Chair Hayley Young found the varied professions and distinctive viewpoints valuable.

“The diverse backgrounds of the panel fostered not only an excellent discussion on women’s health in Wisconsin, but also what we can do as advocates,” Young said.

The panel also addressed racial disparities in minority women’s access to basic women’s health services.

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