When it comes to trying to boost the state’s dismal job numbers and bolster its economy, Gov. Scott Walker and Republican leaders like to point out the input they receive from the business community.
It appears to be a different story when it comes to abortion and other aspects of women’s reproductive health care.
In just more than a week’s time, three controversial bills that limit access to abortions and contraceptives have made their way rapidly through the legislative process.
None have the support of the state’s leading medical associations.
That includes the Wisconsin Medical Society, Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments and Boards, Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians, Wisconsin Hospital Association and the Wisconsin Public Health Association.
Susan Armacost, legislative director with Wisconsin Right to Life, said Friday that the lack of support from these groups doesn’t mean doctors didn’t weigh in on the bills.
Rather, she says “many doctors advised us” on the bills, which her group actively supported. She added she knows “tons of doctors” who don’t agree with the leadership of the medical community, including the Wisconsin Medical Society, on the bills.
She didn’t assert that doctors support of abortion but said their lack of support for the bills reflects opposition to any state law that tells doctors what to do.
And these three bills each mandate certain behaviors on the part of the medical community.
In the first one, nicknamed Sonya’s Law after a woman who said an ultrasound changed her mind about having an abortion, doctors who perform abortions would have to do an ultrasound to assess the state of the fetus in the womb, then describe the findings to woman.
Opponents say this would be an invasive procedure because an ultrasound often needs to be performed vaginally for the first three months of a pregnancy to obtain a clear image of the fetus.
The second bill, the prenatal nondiscrimination act, often referred to as the sex-selection bill, would allow the mother, father or grandparent of "an unborn child that is aborted" to sue the physician who performed the abortion if the gender of the fetus was the reason for the abortion.
Pro-choice advocates argue doctors cannot know if the fetus' gender is an issue unless they ask. Thus, to reduce their risk of being sued, doctors will have to add this task to their pre-abortion duties.
The third bill, known as the health care conscience act, would exempt faith-based groups from a state law requiring all insurance policies that cover prescription drugs to also cover contraceptives. It also would ban abortion coverage in insurance programs for public employees.
Armacost argues that doctors and medical community leaders are being “short-sighted” in their lack of support for the bills.
“We would remind the medical community that abortion is unlike any other medical procedure. Its only goal is to destroy a human life,” Armacost said. “I would think if they stopped to think about this, they would realize it (abortion) is not like setting a broken wrist or taking out appendix.”
The Wisconsin Medical Society and the Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments and Boards did not return calls for comment Friday.
Armacost dismissed the idea that abortion had become a partisan issue.
Yet it was Democratic lawmakers who argued strenuously against the bills — including several women who shared emotional personal stories during the Assembly debate. A Republican lawmaker, Senate President Mike Ellis of Neenah, angrily cut off debate on the ultrasound bill, breaking the base of his gavel as he pounded it repeatedly.
“We would hope that it (abortion) isn’t a partisan issue," Armacost said. "We would think people of goodwill and respect for human life would want to support vulnerable people. I really think it’s a matter of people deciding on their own what is right or wrong.”
Nicole Safar, public policy director with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, disagrees.
“The reality is these bills aren’t about good health care. These bills are about politics,” Safar said. “These groups, Wisconsin Right to Life and Pro-Life Wisconsin, want to make abortion illegal or inaccessible in Wisconsin. Their friends are now in power and the lobbyists are getting their payback.”
Planned Parenthood, which has been providing women’s reproductive health care for nearly 80 years in Wisconsin, operates 23 clinics in the state. Two are in Appleton, one of which provides abortions. The other provides family planning and other health care services.
If the ultrasound bill is signed into law, as Gov. Walker promised Thursday, the Planned Parenthood clinic in Appleton that performs abortions would likely close by the end of the month, says Safar, due to another provision of the bill that requires a doctor who performs abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic.
While there are hospitals within 30 miles of the Appleton clinic, obtaining admitting privileges isn’t a quick process.
Safar said in the short time she and attorneys have had to research the topic they have learned some hospitals take three to six months to approve a request for privileges, while others require a doctor to admit a certain number of patients a year.
“The best answer we have right now is that there is no way we can get a physician admitting privileges in that short of time,” said Safar in reference to Walker saying he would sign the bill soon. “It is not a simple process.”
In 2012, the Appleton abortion clinic served 1,111 patients, 957 of whom received abortions. Some were tested for sexually transmitted diseases and most received contraceptives.
“It is a National Right to Life trend to shut down Planned Parenthood clinics,” Safar said.
If the abortion clinic closes, Wisconsin will have three abortion clinics remaining. Of the three, two are located in Milwaukee — one operated by Planned Parenthood and the other by a private group — and one is run by Planned Parenthood in Madison.
This follows the closure of four of Planned Parenthood’s family planning centers this year after Walker cut state funding in the 2011-2013 budget for family planning.