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Wisconsin Medical Society requests the Legislature clarify the state's 1849 abortion law

Hospital hallway with a medical examination machine with patient nurses doctors.
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The Wisconsin Medical Society put out a statement just after Roe v. Wade was overturned asking for Wisconsin leaders to clarify the 1849 abortion law for health care providers.

Governor Tony Evers says he will offer clemency to anyone convicted under Wisconsin's 1849 abortion law. Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm along with dozens of other DAs around the country, have committed to not criminalizing abortion in light of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

Although some public officials are vowing to not enforce the law, Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion law is still having an impact on the kind of medical care people can access in the state.

Dr. Jerry Halverson is the chair of the board of directors for the Wisconsin Medical Society, which put out a statement just after Roe v. Wade was overturned asking for Wisconsin leaders to clarify the law and stating their belief that decisions over medical care should be limited to a patient and their physician.

"The concerns that we have as physicians in Wisconsin are now potentially subject to a pre-civil war era law that has physicians potentially facing a prison term for providing women with a specific subset of health care," Halverson says.

In addition to potentially facing legal action, physicians are dealing with ambiguous language in the law that states a doctor can only abort a fetus to save the life of a mother.

"To what level does a mom's health have to degrade before performing an abortion? We don't even know what that means ... There are just a lot of questions and a lot of concerns about now us having this law getting in the way of physicians being able to treat patients the way that their health demands that they be treated," Halverson explains.

Halverson says he's heard from members of the medical society who are upset about this decision and women losing control over their own healthcare decisions. They are also unsure how to interpret much of the language in the law.

"As far as when life begins, whether it's at conception or whether when they first feel the heartbeat, there's a lot of confusing terminology out there that, frankly, we're learning about just with everybody else," says Halverson.

Despite the confusion around the legal lingo and the fear of now possibly facing prosecution, Halverson says the Wisconsin Medical Society has not told its members to change the way they practice, including continuing to prescribe contraception. In the meantime, the Wisconsin Medical Society has requested that the legislature clarify the 1849 abortion law.

"As a membership organization, our goal is to support the health of the citizens of Wisconsin and of our physicians' right to provide [care] ... So we're trying to do whatever we can to support the ability of our physicians to be able to be involved in these medically necessary procedures and medically necessary situations without the threat of going to jail or being fined," Halverson says.

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
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