Legislative Republicans are calling on the state's top health official to shutter abortion services across Wisconsin amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The temporary action, 31 lawmakers argued in a letter Thursday, would bolster safety and ensure abortion providers aren't needlessly "using precious medical resources that are needed elsewhere to save Wisconsinites."
Across the nation, other states have shut down abortion procedures for the short term largely by classifying them as medically unnecessary, including Ohio, Alabama, Oklahoma, Iowa and Texas, among others.
The moves have spurred a series of lawsuits that are largely still making their way through the courts — though in Texas this week, for example, the state won an appeal to enforce its ban after a federal judge ruled to let providers continue performing elective abortions, according to local reports.
In Wisconsin, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' "safer at home" order last week closing nonessential businesses didn't specifically name abortion providers as among those that were allowed to operate. But it did list clinics generally, as well as medical facilities and more.
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, which offers abortions at only three of its two dozen clinics across the state (Madison, Milwaukee and Sheboygan), posted on its Facebook page last week that its sites remain open. Its clinics provide a variety of services to patients such as birth control access, cancer screenings, STD treatments and more.
Republican lawmakers in their letter to Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm called for closing the operations during the length of Evers' order, which is in effect until at least 8 a.m. April 24.
"We must not allow abortion clinics to put profit ahead of the public welfare and continue with these elective surgical procedures which now are done at a greater risk to the patient as well as our community," the legislators wrote.
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin CEO Tanya Atkinson said in a statement that efforts to delay access to care, including abortions, "put patients at a greater risk."
“Experts, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, agree that abortion is an essential, time-sensitive procedure that cannot be delayed," she added. "Delays or additional barriers to care can make it less safe and more difficult or even impossible for patients to access the care they need."
DHS directed comment to Evers' office, whose spokeswoman didn't return messages seeking a response.
Palm, who has led the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic, has previously drawn scrutiny from some over her decision to select a former Planned Parenthood lobbyist as her assistant deputy secretary. She has yet to be confirmed by the full state Senate, though other members of Evers' cabinet have been approved.
The letter, signed by 13 senators and 18 representatives, was led by Sen. André Jacque, R-DePere. Also signing on were Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, and Joint Finance Committee co-chairs Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. John Nygren, among others.
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