Planned Parenthood files lawsuit to restore access to nonsurgical abortions in Wisconsin

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin is fighting a state law they say takes away a woman’s right to safe, legal abortions, with a federal lawsuit.

Wisconsin Act 217, which took effect in April, says that women undergoing nonsurgical abortions must visit the same doctor three times, and that doctors must ensure through specific steps that the woman is not being coerced into the procedure. Under the law, if the new procedures aren’t followed, doctors are subject to Class I felony charges.

Planned Parenthood indefinitely stopped providing medication-induced abortions when the law took effect “because of the vague language of Act 217 coupled with the risk of criminal penalties for doctors who fail to follow the legislatively prescribed protocols that conflict with best medical practices.”

On Tuesday, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin filed suit in federal court seeking clarity and the ability to resume providing nonsurgical abortions.

The goal of the legal challenge is to “ restore a woman’s ability to make her own complex medical decisions,” said Teri Huyck, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, during a conference call Wednesday.

Susan Crawford, senior associate with Cullen, Weston, Pines and Bach, said the legal basis for the suit comes from Act 217′s failure to provide clear guidance to physicians telling them how to comply with the law while delivering care to patients.

“The hope is that the court will either arrive at a construction of the law that provides a clarity and certainty that … in delivering these procedures they will not be subject to criminal penalties, or to determine that the law is so vague that it cannot be enforced against physicians,” Crawford said.

Nonsurgical abortion, sometimes referred to as pill abortion, is available within the first 63 days of a pregnancy. It is not the same as emergency contraception (often called the morning-after pill) — medication that women take within five days of intercourse to prevent pregnancy — which is not affected by the law.

Doug Laube, past president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said nonsurgical abortions are often preferable for women who have cervical or uterine conditions that make a surgical procedure difficult, or for women who have been sexually abused or raped and feel a surgical procedure is more invasive. Laube called Act 217 “an intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship.”

“When a legislator dictates best medical practice, certainly the quality of health care suffers,” Laube said.

Act 217′s proponents said it was designed to save lives and keep abortion rare and safe, and that it will ensure no woman is forced to have an abortion.

“By ensuring women aborting do so freely and with proper access to a doctor, this bill will undoubtedly save lives,” State Sen. Mary Lazich said in a statement promoting the bill.

Lazich later wrote that Planned Parenthood’s objections were part of “alarmist propaganda” designed to distract voters from the positive effects of Republican initiatives.

About Jessie Opoien

Jessie Opoien joined the Oshkosh Northwestern as a reporter in December 2011. Politics and education issues are her specialties, but she loves to tell a good story regardless of the topic. You can find her on Twitter as @jessieopie.
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