A Republican bill targeting an agreement between the University of Wisconsin and Planned Parenthood would jeopardize the school's ability to train future obstetricians and gynecologists, according to university officials. But the lawmakers introducing the bill say there's no evidence that would happen.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, and Rep. André Jacque, R-De Pere, is still awaiting a committee assignment.
What does the bill do?
Under the measure, employees of the University of Wisconsin System or the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority (UWHCA) would not be allowed to perform or assist with abortions within the scope of their employment.
The bill also prevents those employees from providing services within the scope of their employment at a private entity, other than a hospital, where abortions are performed.
What does that mean?
In effect, UW doctors would not be able to perform abortions or offer any services at a Planned Parenthood facility unless they did so outside the scope of their UW employment.
Is that something that happens?
It is. The UW School of Medicine and Public Health has had agreements since 2008 with Planned Parenthood that deal with this. The current version, in place since 2012, allows UW physicians to "direct, coordinate and provide" family planning, sexually transmitted disease screening and surgeries including abortions for Planned Parenthood patients.
Under the agreement, Planned Parenthood purchases the physicians' time at a rate of $150 per hour, for an estimated 16 to 20 hours per week.
Why did Kapenga and Jacque introduce this bill?
They believe the UW agreement violates the spirit of a law that prevents state and federal funds from covering an abortion, with exceptions for cases of rape, incest or the life or health of the mother. That ban was extended to cover the UW Hospitals and Clinics Authority in 2011.
"This side agreement is completely outside of the spirit of what we put in place, and it's very clear that the will of the people through the Legislature right now is, they do not want their tax dollars in any way going to provisions of abortions," Kapenga said. "What we're doing is, we are making it crystal clear: this is the spirit, and it needs to be the letter of the law."
"In other words," Jacque said, "UW should get out of the abortion industry."
How has the university responded?
UW Health and the UW School of Medicine and Public Health have asked lawmakers not to support the bill.
"This bill would have disastrous consequences as it will impair our ability to maintain the national accreditation for our OB-GYN residency training program, threatening to shut down our capacity to train future OB-GYN physicians," wrote UW Health CEO Alan Kaplan and UW School of Medicine and Public Health Dean Robert Golden in a letter to legislators. "If this proposed legislation becomes law, the reputation of all our residency programs will suffer."
How does their accreditation work?
The program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). ACGME requires ob-gyn residency programs to to "provide access or training in the provision of abortions," but residents are not required to participate if they have moral or religious objections. ACGME also requires the programs to train residents in all forms of contraception and in managing complications from abortion.
UWHCA fulfills those requirements through its arrangement with Planned Parenthood, where residents can choose to participate in a family planning rotation.
What other concerns does UWHCA have?
Kaplan and Golden say the bill would interfere with the ability to train residents in how to "care for common and potentially life-threatening health issues for women" and how to manage complications from abortions. The bill would also affect the ability to train residents in the provision of medically necessary abortions, which use the same procedures as elective abortions, they said.
And what do the bill's authors say about those concerns?
They're not convinced. Jacque noted that Arizona has a similar statutory provision, and its two state medical schools remain accredited.
Jacque also pointed to a 2005 research paper in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology that found, in a survey of abortion education in U.S. medical schools, that 45 percent offered a clinical experience in their third-year rotations, but "participation was generally low." The paper argued in favor of more abortion education in medical schools, but Jacque used it to argue UWHCA is "among the more vigorous pro-abortion medical school administrations in the country."
Nothing in the bill would stop UW physicians from providing or training on abortions outside the scope of their employment, Jacque said.