In a state that already faces a serious shortage of OB-GYNs, Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin are pushing a bill that would prohibit faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) from training medical residents on how to perform abortions.
AB206 is comprised of several restrictions that would have severe consequences on the state of OB-GYNs in Wisconsin: UW and UW Hospitals and Clinics Authority employees would be barred from performing abortions, training or receiving training in performing abortions anywhere other than a hospital and providing services in private facilities that perform abortions. Authored by Rep. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere), the bill is a targeted attack on Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, which partners with UW to allow medical residents to receive training in performing abortions at local Planned Parenthood facilities and pays UW physicians to perform abortions at its clinics.
This partnership has been crucial in training future OB-GYNs, as the Hyde Amendment bars federal funds from being used to facilitate abortions with just three exceptions. Since residents are unable to be trained at university hospitals, the bill would effectively end this partnership—meaning that UW residents would have no where to obtain this training. As a result, residents would need to join a different residency program in order to become certified OB-GYNs.
Executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin Nicole Safar says that, regardless of whether or not the bill passes, Planned Parenthood will continue performing abortions. And although the bill attempts to cut ties between UW and Planned Parenthood, “the impact will be overall access to OB-GYNs,” Safar said to the Journal-Sentinel. “The intent Andre Jacque has for this bill is not at all the impact it will have in the real world.”
According to Robert Golden, dean of UW’s medical school, the bill also puts UW’s accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education at risk. If the school is unable to offer training in providing abortions to its residents, faculty might also leave UW for accredited programs in other states. Golden and Alan Kaplan, UW Health CEO, wrote a letter to Wisconsin lawmakers warning them of the negative effects the bill would have on the state’s OB-GYN shortage as a result of the university’s potential loss of accreditation. Jacque rebutted this claim with the suggestion that residents could get training “on their own time.”
Jacque says he wants to “get UW out of the abortion business,” but, barring UW residents from being trained in providing abortions doesn’t just prove a political point—it places women’s lives at risk. According to Golden and Kaplan, the university would also be barred from providing training on how to “care for common and potentially life-threatening health issues for women” and perform abortions that are medically necessary.
The bill also threatens to exacerbate the existing dearth of OB-GYNs in Wisconsin and feeds into a larger trend of increasing OB-GYN shortages throughout the country. “Failure to offer that training to residents will place the accreditation of the entire program at risk and endanger the future supply of OB-GYN physicians to practice in Wisconsin,” says Kaplan.
According to the American Medical Society, 20 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties don’t have any OB-GYNs. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) reports that around half of all United States counties lack an OB-GYN, and another report by health care professional social networking site Doximity reveals that the number of OB-GYNs is expected to decrease in the next few years as the current workforce nears the age of retirement. OB-GYNs in large cities are swamped with patients, and women often have to travel hours away—or, in the potential case of Wisconsin, to another state—in order to see a physician, a dangerous situation for women across the country.
The repercussions of the bill are ultimately severe and harmful for women in Wisconsin—even beyond the clear affront to reproductive health access that it poses. With the endangerment of an OB-GYN supply comes the endangerment of women’s rights and lives, which lawmakers seem to have once more overlooked.