Senator Chris Kapenga (copy)

Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield

Photo courtesy of Office of Senator Chris Kapenga

A state Senate committee voted Thursday on party lines to advance a bill that would bar University of Wisconsin employees from performing or assisting with abortions under the scope of their employment.

The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services voted by paper ballot on that and several other pieces of legislation, the rest of which were approved unanimously. The committee voted in this fashion in order to make the bills available for scheduling when the Senate is on the floor next week, said committee clerk Mattias Gugel, an aide to chairwoman Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield.

The bill has the support of some of the Legislature's most conservative members, but has drawn opposition from university officials and a nonpartisan advocacy group of prominent UW alumni. 

Matt Kussow, executive director of Badger Advocates, said in a statement the legislation would "grossly impede" the UW medical school's ability to train medical professionals to handle emergency situations.

“It’s caveman politics and it goes much further than the typical ideological debate on this issue. It is carefully drafted to eliminate critical medical training in our state and threaten the UW-Medical School’s national accreditation ranking," Kussow said. 

Under the bill, the UW School of Medicine would no longer be able to train ob-gyn students to perform abortions. University officials say the changes would ultimately result in the ob-gyn residency program losing its accreditation.

The UW School of Medicine and Public Health has had agreements since 2008 with Planned Parenthood that allow UW physicians to "direct, coordinate and provide" family planning, sexually transmitted disease screening and surgeries including abortions for Planned Parenthood patients.

Under the current agreement, Planned Parenthood purchases the physicians' time at a rate of $150 per hour, for an estimated 16 to 20 hours per week.

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The arrangement allows UW to meet its accreditation requirements under the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, by allowing ob-gyn residents to participate in a family planning rotation. Students with religious or moral objections are not required to participate in the rotation, UW School of Medicine and Public Health Dean Robert Golden said during a public hearing last week.

The bill's authors, Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, and Rep. André Jacque, R-De Pere, contend the arrangement violates the spirit of a law that prevents state and federal funds from covering an abortion, with exceptions for cases of rape, incest or the life or health of the mother.

"(The bill) is to protect that majority of taxpayers (who oppose abortion) ... to protect them from subsidizing the devastating industry to kill babies at Planned Parenthood," Vukmir said during the bill's hearing.

At the same hearing, Golden argued the bill would not reduce the number of abortions performed in Wisconsin, but would "destroy" the school's ob-gyn training program at a time when the state faces a shortage of them.

An Assembly committee gave the bill a hearing in July, but has not yet voted to advance it.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.