Wisconsin's war on women: Republicans threaten gynecology program at UW-Madison

Banning abortion training in Wisconsin threatens to reduce OB-GYN numbers in an already strapped state

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published July 21, 2017 4:59AM (EDT)

University of Wisconsin logo (Getty/Mike McGinnis)
University of Wisconsin logo (Getty/Mike McGinnis)

The Republican war on women and the Republican war on education have joined together in the state of Wisconsin, where GOP state representative Andre Jacque has introduced a bill that would bar medical residents at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from learning how to perform abortions. It's a move that would do a lot more than hurt abortion access — though that alone is a reason to oppose it. It would also chip away at women's access to all forms of gynecological and obstetric care, particularly in the state of Wisconsin.

The problem, beyond the overt misogyny underlying all attacks on abortion access, is that the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education states that programs in family planning for medical residents "must provide training or access to training in the provision of abortions, and this must be part of the planned curriculum" and "must have experience in managing complications of abortions." (There is an opt-out provision for the students who have religious or moral objections to abortion.) This bill would ban that training, and therefore the program would lose its accreditation.

“When you lose accreditation, your residents will not want to come there," explained Dr. Kathy Hartke, the chair of the Wisconsin section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, in a phone interview. "Faculty leave. The program gets a bad reputation. The medical school gets a bad reputation. The effects would be far-reaching.”

Jacque has denied that the University of Wisconsin-Madison would lose its accreditation, but there appears to be no basis for this denial. According to Hartke, the standards and penalties are quite clear: The program teaches abortion, or it loses its accreditation. There is no exception in the regulations for programs in states being run by conservative religious politicians whose hatred of female sexuality has blinded them to basic common sense.

The motivation behind the bill seems to be the university's relationship with the Planned Parenthood clinic in Madison. Because the state already bars public funds from being spent on abortion, Planned Parenthood allows medical residents to learn how to do abortions in their clinic, by working with patients who have paid the full fee for the abortion. No public money is involved. Jacque, who has introduced a number of bills trying to undermine Planned Parenthood, calls this an "appalling arrangement," but in reality it's Planned Parenthood doing a favor to the university, letting them use their clinics so that the unfair funding restrictions on the school don't lead to the program's loss of accreditation.

“I’m trying to get UW out of the abortion business,” Jacque told the Associated Press. “I’m on pretty firm ground here.”

Dr. Hartke disagrees, noting that "abortion will always be needed for so many different reasons."

But it's not just elective abortion that's at stake here, she said. 

“What we do sometimes in normal pregnancies is the same procedure that they’re learning," she explained, noting that sometimes pregnancies are unsalvageable due to infection or hemorrhage, and "the treatment is to empty the contents of the uterus."

Dr. Hartke was also worried because the country is already suffering from a shortage of OB-GYNs, and rural counties especially are suffering from a lack of decent women's health services — close to a third lack OB-GYN care. Women who are trying to bring their pregnancies to term are the ones who are being hit the hardest.

"Some women are driving over an hour just to go to a prenatal visit," Dr. Hartke said, adding that her colleague in Green Bay is seeing pregnant women who drive two to three hours, even through snow and ice.

"She’s had one patient who didn’t get to the hospital," she added. "Her husband delivered the baby at the rest stop area.”

Jacque's bill will make the problem much worse, particularly since the medical school became the first school in the country in 2016 to offer a specific program on rural OB-GYN care. That program is now under threat.

The stomach-churning irony of this is that just as Jacque and his fellow Republicans are looking to seriously reduce the access to medical care that pregnant women receive, they are simultaneously casting around for ways to increase the number of women who get pregnant against their will.

Republicans have repeatedly attacked funding for Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin, even though none of the public funding in question goes to abortion. Much of the money in question, rather, goes to preventing abortion by preventing women from experiencing unintended pregnancy in the first place.

In 2012, the Wisconsin legislature also voted to get rid of comprehensive sex education that taught students how to use contraception, instead replacing it with a bill requiring schools to withhold contraception information and tell students to wait for marriage instead. In the real world, 95 percent of Americans have sex before marriage and nearly all married people would like to have more sexual encounters than those strictly necessary to procreate, making the "wait until you're married and then only do it to make babies" program unrealistic for, well, pretty much everyone.

The attacks on the University of Wisconsin-Madison's ability to administer an ob-gyn residency program complete the misogynistic picture of GOP intentions towards the women in the state. State Republicans are trying mightily to make pregnancy mandatory for women, by removing contraception access and education, but when women do get pregnant, Republican efforts are making it harder to get basic prenatal care and delivery services. There is nothing a woman can do, besides embrace lifelong virginity, to protect herself from the Republican war on women in Wisconsin.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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