Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday challenging a set of state regulations that prevent nurse practitioners from providing abortions and restrict a woman's ability to receive a medication abortion.
The organization contends the laws are medically unnecessary and exist only to limit access to abortions.
Wisconsin women seeking abortions have been required to participate in a counseling appointment followed by a 24-hour waiting period since 1996 — a requirement Planned Parenthood is not challenging. A 2012 law requires a woman obtaining a medication abortion to see the same physician she saw at her first counseling visit, and requires the physician to be in the same room to watch the woman take the first dose of medication. The second dose may be taken at home.
State law also says only a physician can provide an abortion, a requirement Planned Parenthood argues "arbitrarily" bans advanced practice nurses, like nurse practitioners and nurse midwives, from performing a procedure they are otherwise qualified to provide.
In its complaint against the state, Planned Parenthood argues that advanced practice nurses "can and do" provide identical procedures for women experiencing miscarriages. Attorneys also cite statements from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Public Health Association and the World Health Association supporting advanced practice nurses' ability to provide abortions.
"These restrictions are unconstitutional because they place unnecessary barriers in the way of women seeking health care. They are not based in health or safety. They exist only to limit access to safe abortion care in Wisconsin, and that is why we are launching this legal challenge," said Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin president and CEO Tanya Atkinson in a statement.
The organization's attorneys argue the state has "arbitrarily limited the class of medical professionals authorized to provide abortion services and has placed additional unique and unjustifiable restrictions on women’s ability to obtain medication-induced abortions."
Planned Parenthood operates three of the four facilities in Wisconsin that provide abortions. Clinics in Madison and Milwaukee offer surgical and medication abortions, and a clinic opened in Sheboygan in May offers medication abortions. Affiliated Medical Services also provides abortions in Milwaukee.
Attorney General Josh Kaul was endorsed by Planned Parenthood's political arm in his 2018 campaign, but has also said he will defend state laws even if he does not personally support them "if there is a legally defensible position to take."
"In general, the role of the attorney general is to defend state law. The Department of Justice will evaluate this case and take appropriate action," said Kaul spokeswoman Gillian Drummond.
Wisconsin Right to Life executive director Heather Weininger questioned whether Kaul would defend the laws on the books after receiving Planned Parenthood's endorsement, and argued that the organization is challenging the laws to increase its revenues.
"By challenging these common-sense laws that require doctors to perform abortions and limit access to deadly abortion drugs, Planned Parenthood is showing they have zero regard for women’s safety and want nothing more than to increase their profits by expanding abortion in our state," Weininger said in a statement.
In 2016, Planned Parenthood was successful in challenging a requirement that doctors providing abortions have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.