A bill pro-life advocates say is designed to protect women but opponents say throws up more roadblocks to obtaining an abortion will be up for a vote in the Senate Tuesday.
The so-called coercion and webcam abortion prevention bill, SB 306, is the latest attack on women's health care by the current Republican administration, asserts Nicole Safar, public policy director with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin.
The pro-choice group joined nine other groups, including the Wisconsin Medical Society, the Wisconsin Public Health Association and the Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians, in opposing the bill.
The three groups who lobbied in favor of the bill are Wisconsin Right to Life, Pro-Life Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.
The first would require doctors to speak alone and in person with a woman seeking an abortion and to inform her of services for victims of domestic abuse if they believe she's being coerced into seeking an abortion.
"The entire bill is very protective of women," says Barbara Lyons, executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life. "And that was the intent. Right now, a woman may not say, ‘Yes, I'm being coerced,' because her mom, dad or a boyfriend may be in the room."
Safar, however, says current law contains adequate safeguards, including a lengthy script physicians must go over with patients 24 hours prior to the procedure. Current law does not specify a "face to face" talk, but it does state the conversation between the doctor and patient has to take place in a confidential manner.
The bill also eliminates the possibility of what are called webcam abortions from being performed in Wisconsin by requiring doctors to examine patients in person before prescribing abortion-inducing drugs like mifepristone. Backers point to physicians in Iowa and Minnesota who have been prescribing the drug after conferring with patients only via online video conferencing. The practice is not currently done in Wisconsin.
"We consider it (mifepristone) a toxic chemical," says Matt Sande, the director of legislation for Pro-Life Wisconsin. "Its use should be highly restricted if not outright banned."
The bill also would require a woman to return to an abortion clinic for a follow-up visit 12 to 18 days after being given the drug.
"The issue isn't actually having the follow-up visit, but where you have it," Safar says. "Most women now see their primary care physician for a follow-up, but this bill requires they return to the abortion clinic, which is another huge burden for women and an example of the Legislature dictating were women must go for their post-op care."
During a public hearing on the bill in December, Lisa Subeck, executive director NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, testified that prescription abortions authorized via video conferencing have been found to have comparable outcomes to conventional procedures. Subeck added webcam abortions could be a way to extend needed medical services in a state like Wisconsin, where 94 percent of the counties have no abortion providers. To read more testimony from the hearing, click here.
A lesser discussed provision of the bill would repeal two currently unenforced sections of state law that penalize women -- not more than $200 or six months in prison or both -- for having an abortion. The law long predates the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion but has never been removed from the books.
This change in state law would obviously have no real-world impact unless Roe v. Wade was overturned, but pro-life advocates nonetheless want the law changed now. A similarly unenforced section of state law that penalizes those performing an abortion would remain in place, however.
"The woman could not be penalized," Lyons says. "The woman would be considered the victim."
Safar says Planned Parenthood also is in favor of repealing the sections of law that criminalize abortion patients.
The bill is sponsored by Sens. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, Pam Galloway, R-Wausau, and Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend. If approved Tuesday by the Senate, the bill would still need to be approved by the Assembly before heading to the governor's desk.
The legislative session is quickly drawing to an end, with only a handful of days remaining for lawmakers to vote on bills.