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Wisconsin could ban university doctors from performing abortions

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University of Wisconsin doctors could be severely restricted in their ability to perform abortions or train medical students on the procedure, if the legislature passes a controversial bill that was up for debate at a state Senate hearing on Tuesday.

The measure, AB 206, would ban UW staff from providing abortion services or training at private clinics, like Planned Parenthood, or any medical facilities other than hospitals.

State-funded UW doctors have been performing abortions at clinics like Planned Parenthood for several years, in order to get the training they need and also abide by a state law prohibiting the use of public dollars on abortions. This training is required for UW to maintain its federal accreditation for obstetrician-gynecologist training.

But, citing risks that state-funded employees are being paid by Planned Parenthood, proponents of the bill argued in favor of putting an end to the arrangement, which would effectively shut down UW’s training program.

“This is not just a good bill it’s a very important bill,” state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R) said at Tuesday’s Senate committee hearing. “We really cannot stand for unborn babies being killed, even worse on the state’s dime.”

Robert Golden, dean of the UW’s School of Medicine and Public Health, argued at the hearing that the measure would only weaken the university’s ob-gyn program and do nothing to stop abortions. Calling the bill a “grave concern,” Golden said it would result in the loss of accreditation for the school’s ob-gyn training program, as well as its rural residency track.

Golden added that it would “reduce the number of ob-gyn physicians trained in Wisconsin each year at a time when our state desperately needs more.”

According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, in 2014, Wisconsin had 556 ob-gyn physicians serving a population of more than 2.3 million women. Twenty-six of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have no ob-gyn professionals at all. The number of abortion-providing facilities in Wisconsin is also at an all-time low, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which reported a 13 percent decline in the number of overall providers since 2011. As of 2014, there are seven abortion-providing facilities in Wisconsin, four of which are clinics.

At a July hearing, shortly after the bill was first introduced, state Rep. Deb Kolste (D) said that it’s not simple for medical residents to obtain the skills elsewhere.

“[Medical residents] are under the auspices of certified faculty, and there’s a protocol for all the curriculum they’re going to have to cover,” she said. “They can’t just get it through some other source and say ‘I did it, it’s good.’ It’s defined curriculum under the auspices of defined faculty.”

Ashe McGovern, associate director at the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School, told ThinkProgress that the legislation is “incredibly overbroad and restrictive” and poses numerous constitutional risks, including the due process clause of the 14th amendment, which holds that states cannot impose undue burden on a person’s right to an abortion.

The measure could come to a full vote this fall. While it is unclear whether Gov. Scott Walker (R) will sign the bill, history has shown him to be supportive of such anti-choice proposals.

If the legislation is passed, McGovern said, “will it be incredibly vulnerable to legal challenge? Absolutely.”

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