Republicans, UW clash over abortion ban proposal

May 27, 2021 GMT

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican legislators sparred with University of Wisconsin medical school officials Wednesday over a bill that would end an arrangement that allows UW doctors to train on abortion procedures at a Planned Parenthood clinic.

The bill comes as the fight over abortion has intensified nationally in recent weeks. A federal judge in Madison is set to rule soon on whether to expand availability of abortion-inducing pills in Wisconsin, and the U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to consider a Mississippi law aimed at overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established a right to abortion.

Under the UW bill, school employees would be prohibited from training medical residents to perform abortions at Planned Parenthood’s Madison clinic or any other private facility.

Wisconsin law prohibits using tax dollars to fund abortions. UW doctors are state employees. The bill’s supporters contend UW is getting around that prohibition by having Planned Parenthood pay those physicians for performing and training abortions at the organization’s facility. Opponents counter that the bill would threaten national accreditation for the university’s obstetrics-gynecology program because it would no longer be allowed to teach abortion procedures.

The bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Andre Jacque, one of the staunchest anti-abortion advocates in the Legislature, argued during a hearing before the Senate’s children and families committee that the arrangement between Planned Parenthood and UW is clearly illegal.

“Time and again, surveys have shown by an overwhelming margin that the public does not want to see taxpayer dollars used to subsidize abortions or abortion providers,” he said in written statements to the committee. “Please join us in putting a stop to it.”

Robert Golden, dean of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, pleaded with the committee to drop the bill. He insisted the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education would pull the medical school ob/gyn program’s accreditation if it can’t provide abortion training in its curriculum.

That will lead to would-be gynecologists enrolling elsewhere, exacerbating a shortage in Wisconsin, he said.

The money to compensate UW doctors for their work at Planned Parenthood passes through UW to the employees, Golden said, but that doesn’t make it tax dollars.

Jacque questioned whether the school would actually lose its accreditation, saying other medical schools don’t offer abortion training but remain accredited. Golden insisted UW would lose its rating if the bill became law, saying the council “will not turn a blind eye.”

They also fought over a remark from Jacque that UW is biased against students and medical residents who oppose abortion. He said they would be more likely to enroll at UW if the arrangement with Planned Parenthood ends.

“Any pro-life student would have pause with going to UW knowing this arrangement is in place,” he said.

Golden called that comment “hurtful.” He said medical students and residents don’t have to undergo abortion training.

“We are not hostile to those people who opt out,” he said.

Heather Weininger, executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life, told the committee that no matter who pays the UW doctors, they’re still doing abortions on behalf of Planned Parenthood.

“We believe that relationship needs to end,” he said. “If students want to be trained, they need to find another way to be trained.”

Jacque introduced an identical bill during the 2017-19 legislative session but it never got a floor vote in either house. Jacque and Golden made the same arguments on Wednesday as they did during a hearing before the Senate health committee in 2017.

This version’s prospects look uncertain. Seven groups have registered in opposition, including the Wisconsin Medical Society and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Pro-Life Wisconsin is the only group that has registered in support, according to the state ethics commission.

Jacque is the chairman of the Senate families and children committee so he can push it through that body, but it’s unclear if the proposal will go much further. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu had no comment on the bill Wednesday and a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos didn’t return a message.

A spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. Tony Evers didn’t respond to a message. But it’s almost certain Evers would veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.


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This story was first published on May 26, 2021. It was updated on May 27, 2021, to correct that the accreditation said to be at risk due to the legislation is for the medical school’s ob-gyn program, not the entire school.