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Wisconsin Doctors: Scott Walker Should Veto Abortion Legislation

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Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker speaks to an audience at a Waukesha County Republican dinner in Pewaukee, Wis., on March 31.

CREDIT: AP Photo / Steven Senne

If Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signs the latest piece of legislation attempting to scale back reproductive rights, he’ll do so against the wishes of the state medical community.

UPDATE: The Associated Press reports Walker signed the controversial abortion legislation Thursday, along with a divisive sexual education bill, without public notice. His office sent out an announcement on Friday with a list of more than 50 bills he had signed.

“Perhaps he thought that in doing this behind closed doors, with no public notice, before a holiday weekend for many families, his actions would go unnoticed. He was wrong. We will not be silent—these issues are too important to ignore,” Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, D-Madison, said in a statement.

Walker signed off on legislation that also prohibits abortion coverage in private insurance obtained through a health insurance exchange.

Doctors who break the new law requiring them to ensure a woman has not been coerced into a legal abortion procedure and to perform physical exams on the same woman could be charged with a felony.

The Wisconsin Medical Society, a group representing 12,500 medical doctors in the state, wants the Republican governor to veto SB 306, a bill that would add new regulations and, in their opinion, put the state between doctors and their patients.

The bill would add new requirements for doctors to ensure a woman isn't coerced or forced into having an abortion. In a letter, the medical group said they’re worried that physicians who fail to follow the bill exactly will face a Class I felony charge.

Dr. Douglas W. Laube, a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist, recently spoke out against SB 306 in an op-ed. Laube, who is also the board chairman of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, said it creates unjustifiable obstacles for women.

“The authors of this bill are not physicians,” Laube wrote, “yet they are saying that they understand the practice of medicine better than we do. They haven't met our patients or heard their stories, but they've concluded that women are incapable of making sound decisions about their health and lives.

Mark Grapentine, the lead staff member on this legislation for the Wisconsin Medical Society, told The Capital Times it’s not further restrictions on abortion that they are necessarily opposed to as much as it’s getting the Legislature involved with private medical decisions.

He said their organization’s members have a wide range of views on abortion, but the group is taking a stand against “unacceptable physician-patient interference.”

“You should leave medicine to medically trained folk,” Grapentinesaid. “Interfering and putting a wedge between a physician and a patient is never a good idea for anybody.”

Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat in the state, told Campus Progress that he’s already been pushing Walker to veto the pending legislation.

“If Walker signs off on the War on Women,” Pocan said, referring to SB 306, “he will unfairly dial the clock back decades in terms of equality."

Pocan recently sent a letter to Walker asking him to veto the legislation. In a copy provided to Campus Progress, Pocan told Walker that SB 306 would put the state in the middle of very personal medical decisions.

“[It] prioritizes the moral judgment of politicians over a patient’s relationship with her doctor,” Pocan wrote.

In order to poke fun at what he thought was the bill’s absurdity, Pocan put forward an amendment that would put similar requirements on men seeking to obtain Viagra in the state. The amendment did not pass, but Pocan said he wanted to at least put up an amendment “that is equally as ridiculous … to show the true comparison about how unequal we’re treating men and women when it comes to healthcare.”

Dr. Laurel Rice, the chair of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, told The Capital Times that SB 306 makes an argument that doctors do not view their relationship and trust with patients as vital.

“My feeling of course is no one wants a woman to be coerced for any reason for any medical procedure,” Rice said. “I, myself, and every physician I know, in every situation thinks the doctor-patient relationship is tremendously important. I have tremendous respect for that. It is one of the best parts of my job.”

Republican state Sen. Mary Lazich, the sponsor of SB 306, declined to comment for this story.

Wisconsin’s Republican controlled legislature passed SB 306 along with a proposal that would prevent a woman from obtaining coverage for an abortion under privately purchased health care in insurance exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act.

Pocan’s letter to Walker said the state should focus on economic bills and avoid divisive social issues.

Tyler Kingkade is a staff writer with Campus Progress. Keep up with him on Twitter @tylerkingkade.

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