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Appointments fill up quickly as Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin resumes abortions

For nearly 15 months, there have been virtually no legal abortions in Wisconsin

Anti-abortion demonstrators gather outside Planned Parenthood's Water Street Health Center in Milwaukee
Anti-abortion demonstrators gather outside Planned Parenthood’s Water Street Health Center in Milwaukee on Monday, Sept. 2023. Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin began offering abortions at the clinic that day after discontinuing those procedures for more than a year. Margaret Faust/ WPR

After more than a year, Planned Parenthood is once again providing abortions in Wisconsin.

Starting Monday, the group began offering abortion appointments at two locations — the Water Street Health Center in Milwaukee and the Madison East Health Center.

The decision follows a nearly 15-month period during which virtually no legal abortions were available in Wisconsin.

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Providers across Wisconsin stopped offering the procedure in June of 2022, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. That’s largely because of a long-dormant state law, which was widely interpreted as banning abortions unless they’re done to save a pregnant person’s life.

But now Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin is citing a July ruling from Dane County Circuit Court Judge Diane Schlipper as evidence that the 19th century law actually bans feticide — when someone attacks a pregnant person and destroys the fetus — rather than abortions done with a patient’s consent.

“In consultation with attorneys, physicians, partners and stakeholders, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin is confident in our decision to resume abortion care in Wisconsin,” Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin CEO Tanya Atkinson said in a video announcement Thursday.

A nurse reads from a list as other nurses nearby listen.
Clinic coordinator Emily Estrada reads a list of staff duties before the clinic opens Friday, May 27, 2022, at Planned Parenthood’s Water Street Health Center in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

In an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio on Monday, Atkinson said people began requesting abortion appointments immediately after Planned Parenthood announced the change.

“All of our appointment slots were full within 24 hours,” Atkinson said. “So it’s clear that the need is great.”

Meanwhile, at Planned Parenthood’s Water Street clinic in Milwaukee, nearly 50 anti-abortion protestors had gathered by Monday morning to pray and sing. Among them was Sarah Storms, who cited her Christian faith.

“We view innocent pre-born children as our neighbor, and we have a duty to stand up and speak on their behalf as they’re being led away to death,” Storms said. “We have a special inspiration today because laws against abortion in our state are being disregarded and not enforced by the authorities that be.”

Wisconsin’s Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul sued days after Roe’s overturn in an attempt to block prosecutions of abortions under the 19th century law. This summer, Schlipper allowed the case to proceed in Dane County when she dismissed a motion from Sheboygan County District Attorney Joel Urmanksi, which asked for Kaul’s lawsuit to be thrown out.

READ MORE: How We Got Here: Abortion in Wisconsin since 1849

In that ruling, Schlipper cited a 1994 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision.

“According to State v. Black, … this pre-Roe statute says nothing about abortion—there is no such thing as an ‘1849 Abortion Ban’ in Wisconsin,” Schlipper wrote. “A physician who performs a consensual medical abortion commits a crime only ‘after the fetus or unborn child reaches viability.”‘

The Dane County case is ongoing and is likely to be appealed to Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, where liberals now hold a 4-3 majority.

Newly-elected Justice Janet Protasiewicz was outspoken about her support for abortion rights during her 2023 campaign, prompting criticism from Republicans who accused her of pre-judging potential cases.

Last week, Republican state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. R-Rochester, blasted the decision of Planned Parenthood to resume abortions while Kaul’s lawsuit is still pending.

“We’re still working our way through the legislative and the process inside the courts,” Vos told reporters. “So it’s very presumptive, and it’s one of the things that worries me about the independence of our judiciary.”

Prior to Roe’s overturn, elective abortions were available in only three cities in Wisconsin — Madison, Milwaukee and Sheboygan.

The Madison and Milwaukee Planned Parenthood clinics that are resuming abortions are both located in counties where Democratic district attorneys have pledged not to prosecute abortion providers under the 19th century law. But in Sheboygan County, Urmanski, a Republican, has said he would enforce the law.

Planned Parenthood is looking into resuming abortion services at its Sheboygan clinic, Atkinson said Friday.

“We continue to work on logistics in order to do that,” Atkinson said. “We want to make sure that we are able to offer a meaningful schedule for folks who need access.”

Cynthia Lin is board president of the Women’s Medical Fund, a Wisconsin nonprofit that provides financial assistance to people seeking abortions. She applauded Planned Parenthood’s decision to resume abortions in Wisconsin, and said the Fund will continue working with people seeking abortions, whether they’re traveling within Wisconsin or outside its borders.

“We know that people will continue needing abortions, and will continue getting them,” Lin said. “Some will also continue traveling out-of-state as they did, because of relatively more cumbersome restrictions in Wisconsin compared to some of our neighboring states.”

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