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Abortion services are back in Wisconsin, but only for some

by Dr. Kristin Lyerly, Wisconsin Examiner
September 18, 2023

Abortion services are resuming in Madison and Milwaukee today after a 15-month pause. The suspension of services resulted from the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision that called into question the enforceability of an archaic law from 1849 threatening to put doctors in jail for performing nearly all abortions in the state. The chilling effect of this ban, on doctors and our patients, cannot be overstated. 

When Dane County Circuit Court Judge Diane Schlipper ruled in July that the law applies to feticide and not consensual abortion, saying “there is no such thing as an 1849 abortion ban in Wisconsin,” the question was immediately raised: If this is the case, when would women be able to access abortion services in Wisconsin again? After weeks of planning to ensure optimal staffing and services, that day has come … for some. 

For people who live in the other 97% of Wisconsin counties, however, nothing has changed. 

Even prior to the fall of Roe, the only other city offering routine abortion care was Sheboygan, which meant that the entire northern, central, and western parts of our state lacked fundamental reproductive health care. Worse yet, politically enacted barriers — a 24-hour waiting period, absence of funding and insurance coverage, arbitrary gestational limits, and medically inaccurate mandatory counseling — make it nearly impossible for some women to access the care that they desperately need. 

I will never forget the couple I met in Sheboygan who were seeking a medication abortion. They drove for three hours to see me for their mandatory counseling visit. After a fruitful discussion, they asked me to leave the room so they could talk through some things. When I returned, they were still trying to figure out what they could sell in order to come up with the gas money for their follow-up visit a few days later — all so that I, the same physician (per state law), could hand them a pill. That’s the same pill they can now just order over the internet without any interaction with or support from the medical system.

As a physician who cares deeply for my patients and their families, I can’t help but feel that political interference in our most personal health care decisions has forced me to abandon my patients when they need me the most. That’s why I chose to be involved as an intervenor in the ongoing legal case about the 1849 law. I needed to know that I was doing something to fix this malignant effort to control women. 

Women understand this. Remember, one in four women in this country will have an abortion in her lifetime. Odds are you know many people who have had abortions, for a myriad of different reasons, but you probably don’t know their personal stories. I do. 

Those women, and the people who care about them — their children, husbands, neighbors, and friends — are the people who give me hope. They may not be telling you their stories, but they are telling each other. They are recognizing this moment and galvanizing this movement. They understand that this issue is intimately tied to all of the upstream factors that affect our health: affordable child care, clean water, public education and so much more. They live in the suburban Milwaukee WOW counties as well as Rhinelander, Lancaster, and all across Wisconsin. 

And they vote.

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Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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