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Getting A Legal Abortion In Wisconsin Is Even Harder Because Of COVID-19

Michael B. Thomas
Getty Images
The exterior of a Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services Center is seen on May 28, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri. This is the last abortion clinic in Missouri and has faced threats of closure for the past few years.

Wisconsin is known for having some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation. Currently, women can only go to four clinics in the state to access abortion services. If they can get appointments at these clinics, additional restrictions such as state-directed counseling and a 24-hour waiting period require multiple trips.

While these barriers already exist, it puts an even larger demand on those who need to travel a significant distance to make these appointments during the coronavirus pandemic.

Experts such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists say abortion is an essential, time-sensitive procedure. But in April, 31 Wisconsin lawmakers argued to shutter all abortion services amidst the pandemic.  

Dr. Jenny Higgins is a UW-Madison professor in obstetrics and gynecology and gender and women’s studies. She notes that after state Republicans won control of the Assembly, Senate and governor's office between 2011 and 2013, numerous restrictions were placed on abortions that increased Wisconsin's standing as a hostile abortion state. One of those was the ban on the use of telemedicine for any abortion-related service.

While the Department of Health Services pushed for the use of telemedicine to reduce the number of people leaving their home during the coronavirus pandemic, that did not extend to telemedicine services for patients seeking abortions.

"Right now in a global pandemic, to have women drive to clinics and leave their homes for a meeting that can easily be done on the phone or via the internet ... is really unnecessary." - Barbara Alvarez

Barbara Alvarez, a UW-Madison Ph.D. student studying information access and abortion, says, "There’s already these barriers. And right now in a global pandemic, to have women drive to clinics and leave their homes for a meeting that can easily be done on the phone or via the internet — and it’s shown that other states are doing that — is really unnecessary."

Not all states have mandatory, in-person informed consent or the required 24-hour waiting period after a patient gives informed consent. 

"Michigan allows people to go on the Department of Health website and read the forms and the manuals there, and then they can print off the form, sign it, and bring it into the clinic at the time of their procedure," notes Alvarez. 

Alvarez and Higgins say that telemedicine abortion services, including medication abortion, need to be available for those in Wisconsin but will only become available once legislators in Wisconsin allow it. 

Higgins says in the larger scope, "the people making the decisions about the ways in which abortion care is delivered in our state should be physicians, health care practitioners, and not politicians."

And she says, "We need folks to call and put pressure on their legislators to support telemedicine — particularly right now."

In the meantime, groups like the Women's Medical Fund, Options Fund, Freedom Fund, and the Planned Parenthood Justice Fund are all working to help those seeking legal abortions in Wisconsin.

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Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.