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Monday, September 25, 2023
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UHS to resume in-state abortion referrals for students after Wisconsin Planned Parenthood restores abortion services

Planned Parenthood’s decision to restore abortion services brings forth shifting changes across Wisconsin and questions about the legality of Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion law.

University Health Services (UHS) plans to once again refer University of Wisconsin-Madison students to in-state clinics for abortion services amid a recent shakeup in interpretations of Wisconsin abortion laws, a UHS representative told The Daily Cardinal on Monday. 

Sarah Clifford Glapa, UHS associate director of marketing and health communications, said in an email that Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin’s (PPWI) recent decision to restore abortion services to two Wisconsin health clinics increases “local access to care for students,” including abortion referrals.

“University Health Services remains dedicated to providing a spectrum of gynecology services to our students, including contraception consultations, as well as abortion referrals and follow-up for health care services UHS does not provide,” Clifford Glapa told the Cardinal.

UHS previously referred students to abortion services at in-state clinics, but required to refer students out-of-state in June of last year due to an 1849 Wisconsin law that until recently was interpreted as a near-total ban on abortions in the state. 

Recent court ruling prompted decision to resume abortions

Planned Parenthood’s decision to restore abortion services at its Water Street Health Center in Milwaukee and its Madison East Health Center revived legal and medical debates surrounding abortion, particularly about Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion law. 

The law, reinstated after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned federally guaranteed abortion rights in 2022 with its Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling, banned nearly all abortions with no exception for rape or incest. Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit in Dane County challenging the law days after the Dobbs decision. 

Planned Parenthood cited a recent ruling from Diane Schlipper, a Dane County circuit court judge, in its decision to resume abortion services.

Schlipper  ruled in July that the 1849 law’s language does not prohibit consensual medical abortions and only forbids an individual from attacking a woman with an attempt to kill her developing fetus. 

“There is no such thing as an '1849 abortion ban' in Wisconsin. A physician who performs a consensual medical abortion commits a crime only after the fetus or unborn child reaches viability,” Schlipper said in her decision. 

Michelle Velasquez, director of legal advocacy services at PPWI, said Planned Parenthood suspended abortion services after Dobbs v. Jackson because “we knew that there was a real threat or real risk to physicians and clinicians and other health center staff.” 

PPWI sought clarification that the 1849 law was no longer enforceable, a goal achieved through Schlipper’s ruling in July. 

“There is no 1849 criminal abortion ban in Wisconsin. And so that's really the confirmation that Planned Parenthood Wisconsin needed to resume services that there is no enforceable abortion ban in Wisconsin,” Velasquez told The Daily Cardinal. 

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But as matters evolve, Velasquez said abortions may still be prosecuted under the 1849 statute. 

“We can never stop somebody from trying to from filing a lawsuit,” Velasquez said. “But we are really confident that the two courts that have looked at the statute, since Roe and now one since Dobbs, have both said the statute does not apply to abortion.” 

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, told reporters on Sept. 14 that outside groups may sue but that the Legislature does not “have to put itself into every single legal argument.”

Instead, Vos said he would pray for the “unborn children who won’t have the opportunity to be born.” 

Abortion bans increase deaths but don’t reduce abortions

Women seek medical abortions for a variety of reasons. They may find themselves making this choice when their life is in jeopardy, to prevent a pregnancy caused by rape or incest, to avert the birth of a fetus with a significant genetic deformity or avoid childbirth due to economic factors, according to the National Library of Medicine

Restricting access to abortions does not reduce the number of abortions but rather reduces the safety of the procedure, according to the World Health Organization. WHO statistics show between approximately 5% and 13% of maternal deaths each year can be attributed to unsafe abortions.

Furthermore, most women discover they are pregnant between four and seven weeks. 

And at the time of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court wrote that viability is placed at between 24- 28 weeks. Over 90% of abortions occur before 13 weeks gestation while 1.2% of abortions are performed at or after 21 weeks, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data

Abortions that occur during a later stage are rare and are often life-threatening to the woman, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.  

Velasquez explained that restricting medical abortion access is “felt most by marginalized communities, specifically the Black and Indigenous communities that face worse health outcomes.” 

“Maternal and infant mortality rates are higher in those communities than any other and so when there's a lack of access to abortion care, there's also just generally [a] lack of access to women's health care,” she said.

Some states have introduced laws that would criminalize the act of obtaining an abortion so the pregnant woman would face criminal liability and imprisonment. In Wisconsin, you are not eligible to vote if you have been convicted of a felony or are serving a sentence. 

Although Wisconsin’s laws hold doctors liable for illegal abortion procedures and not patients, Velasquez said she wouldn’t take a rule change off the table as a possibility.

The litigation over the 1849 law will likely reach the Wisconsin Supreme Court, where liberals have a 4-3 majority after Janet Protasiewicz won against former Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly in April. 

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Ava Menkes

Ava Menkes is the state news editor at The Daily Cardinal. She has covered multiple stories about Wisconsin politics and written in-depth about nurses unions and youth voter turnout. Follow her on Twitter at @AvaMenkes.


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