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Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin

Citing a new state law that subjects abortion doctors to criminal penalties, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin plans to announce Friday that it is suspending medication-induced abortions.

In an exclusive interview, the leaders of Planned Parenthood and the president of the Wisconsin Medical Society told the State Journal that the agency will indefinitely suspend so-called pill abortions beginning Friday when Act 217 takes effect.

Planned Parenthood will continue to provide surgical abortions at its clinics in Appleton, Madison and Milwaukee, Planned Parenthood CEO Teri Huyck said. About 25 percent of women who terminate their pregnancies at a Planned Parenthood clinic do so through nonsurgical medication abortions.

In 2010, Planned Parenthood provided abortion services to 4,827 women.

Planned Parenthood leaders detailed their plans to the State Journal Thursday on the condition that the news not be shared until Friday.

The new law mandates, among other things, that women undergoing nonsurgical abortions visit the same doctor three times and that doctors ensure through specific steps that the woman is undergoing the procedure voluntarily and without coercion. The state already requires that women provide written consent before having an abortion.

The new law requires that if a doctor suspects a woman is being coerced, she must be provided with a telephone and information about domestic-abuse services.

Medication abortion involves the ingestion of two drugs within the first nine weeks of pregnancy. The process allows women to undergo abortion privately in their own homes, said Debbie Bonilla, Planned Parenthood's vice president for patient services.

Act 217 does not affect emergency contraception, medication that women take within five days of intercourse to prevent, rather than terminate, pregnancy.

Proponents of the so-called Coercive and Webcam Abortion Prevention Act say it provides safeguards to ensure that no one is forced to have an abortion. Lawmakers heard stories of women coerced by family members, boyfriends and others into terminating their pregnancies.

The law also bans doctors from meeting with women undergoing medication-induced abortions via the Internet, a technique that is in use elsewhere but not Wisconsin.

"By ensuring women aborting do so freely and with proper access to a doctor, this bill will undoubtedly save lives," sponsor Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, said in a statement released in February after the Senate narrowly passed the bill.

The law subjects doctors to Class I felony charges if procedures required under the new law are not followed. Such crimes carry a maximum penalty of a $10,000 fine, 3 1/2 years in prison or both.

Huyck called the law "vague" and "problematic." She said the agency will be suspending medication abortions "until we can get more clarity."

"It's very difficult for a physician to know when he or she is compliance with the law," Huyck said.

Medical Society President Dr. Tosha Wetterneck said the law is an "unprecedented intrusion into the patient-doctor relationship" and requires doctors to follow procedures that are not considered to be the best medical practices.

For example, a patient will now be required to return to the same doctor 12 to 18 days after the medications are administered for followup care. If she refuses, or prefers to see her personal physician, the patient would face no penalty but the doctor could be charged, Wetterneck said.

The law also bars anyone except the woman and the abortion provider and his or her staff to be in the room when discussing whether the woman voluntarily consents to the procedure.

Wetterneck said some patients prefer, or even require, someone else in the room to help them understand the medical information being provided.

"We are asking doctors to reduce their quality of care to avoid felony charges," she said.

The Republican-sponsored bill passed the Legislature on a largely party-line vote of 60-33 in the Assembly with four not voting, and 17-15 in the Senate, with one member not voting.

It is among a series of measures passed in the last legislative session targeting abortion, sexual education and Planned Parenthood.

The state has eliminated all state funding to Planned Parenthood to provide breast and cervical cancer screenings, contraception and testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.

Wisconsin also has banned privately paid insurance plans offered under government-arranged health insurance exchanges from covering the cost of abortion except in cases of rape, incest or if a mother's life is at stake. Currently no state or federal funding can be used for abortions.

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