Seventy women had abortions scheduled Friday and Saturday at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin’s clinics but only four were able to access care early this morning before the U.S. Supreme Court released its opinion on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturns the consitutional right to an abortion established by Roe v. Wade in 1973. The doctors, nurses and other staff at these clinics had to let the other patients know they could no longer get an abortion in Wisconsin.
“When Roe v. Wade was struck down this morning, we had patients in our waiting rooms,” Tanya Atkinson, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, told reporters in a Zoom news conference today. “We had friends, families, neighbors, people who had driven for hours and hours in some cases in our waiting room who had made their own health-care decisions and were waiting for the health care that they needed. And when the ruling came down we had to go out to those individuals who were in our waiting rooms and say ‘We’re so sorry; that decision that you made for yourself, for your family, for your future is no longer your decision to make here in Wisconsin. Instead the leaders in your Legislature have made that decision.’”
Atkinson said the organization worked with patients to book appointments in other states where abortion is still legal. “This is simply devastating,” she said.
Planned Parenthood operated three of the state’s abortion clinics; a fourth clinic, Affiliated Medical Services in Milwaukee, also suspended abortions today, according to a voice recording at its office, but remains open to help women access services elsewhere.
The ruling in Dobbs was not unexpected. In early May a draft decision was leaked and reported by Politico. Abortion policy, according to the decision, is now in the hands of individual states. Wisconsin has an 1849 law that makes it a crime for a doctor to perform an abortion so Planned Parenthood has suspended abortions until it receives “clarification from a court about whether the law is enforceable.”
“We have been looking closely at legal options,” said Michelle Velasquez, legal advocacy and services director for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, on the Zoom news conference.
On Friday, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne issued a statement saying that he would not prosecute doctors under Wisconsin’s criminal ban for performing abortions. “I have every intention of utilizing the power Dane County voters entrusted in me and will use my discretion to prosecute only those crimes that keep our community safe and represent our collective values,” he said. “If the voters want a district attorney who prosecutes women for seeking an abortion or licensed providers who are acting in the best interest of their patients, they will need to elect someone else.”
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul has also said that he would not use office staff and resources to prosecute providers under this law.
But, as Velasquez noted in the news conference, “We had to consider the fact that there are 72 counties in the state with different district attorneys who may have different thoughts on the applicability of the law, with the ability to pursue criminal charges.
Protests against the decision are being planned across the country, including in Madison at the state Capitol Friday at 5 p.m. The Socialist Feminist Collective, the group organizing the Madison protest, said in a statement that the most marginalized members of the community will be most affected by the restrictions. “Many Black, Brown, transgender, working class, and poor people already live in a post-Roe America and know the stakes of this fight are nothing less than life and death. Safe surgical abortion is becoming a privilege permitted to those who can afford to travel out of state and avoid law enforcement, but we claim it is a fundamental human right.”
People seeking services can still call Planned Parenthood at 1-800-230-7526 or access its website. Patient navigators there will be able to help people get an appointment out of state, and provide funding for the appointment as well as travel, lodging, child care and other needs, say Planned Parenthood officials.
People can also call POWERS at 608-514-1714 or access its website. This Madison-based nonprofit group can also provide help with information on care, appointments and funding.