While the Wisconsin legislature has been fast-tracking multiple bills that would significantly alter the doctor-patient relationship and medical best practices—at least, when it comes to abortion—many lawmakers, activists, and media outlets have been asking “Where are the doctors?”
According to Wisconsin Right to Life, many doctors are on their side—they just aren’t being public about it. Susan Armacost, the legislative director of Wisconsin Right to Life, told the Capitol Times that when it came to SB 206, the forced ultrasound bill that was just approved by both arms of the state legislature, “many doctors advised us” on the bills, and “tons of doctors” disagree with the major Wisconsin medical groups, all of which have publicly condemned the bill.
Traditionally, physician groups, in Wisconsin and elsewhere, have avoided taking sides on abortion restrictions, despite the effect such bills often have on their members. But in the face of extreme anti-choice bills flooding state legislatures, that trend is changing. Most recently, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) released a blistering condemnation of politicians legislating medical best practices during abortion, calling government mandated “counseling” and “informed consent” scripts, rules on what type of procedures, tests, and medications can be administered, and other anti-choice regulations an “assault” on practicing medicine.
“Given the relentless legislative assault on the patient-physician relationship that we’ve seen in the past few years—and unfortunately continue to see—we were compelled to issue a formal Statement of Policy,” said ACOG President Jeanne A. Conry in a statement earlier this month. “A disproportionate number of these types of laws are aimed at women’s reproductive rights and the physicians that provide women’s health care services. … We are speaking out not just on behalf of ob-gyns, but for all physicians and patients. Many of these laws are dangerous to patients’ health and safety. As physicians, we are obligated to offer the best evidence-based care to our patients. Government should stay out of imposing its political agenda on medical practice.”
Condemning anti-choice bills may be new ground for the national organization, but some Wisconsin medical groups entered the fray a year earlier. Aware that the medication abortion rules that were being proposed in 2012 were likely to result in practitioners not being able to safely offer RU-486 without putting their careers in jeopardy, the Wisconsin Medical Society publicly opposed the bill, marking the first time the group had ever taking a stand on abortion legislation.
The Wisconsin Medical Society is just as open about opposing this year’s bills, especially SB 206, which not only would force every patient seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound, listen to a detailed description of the embryo or fetus, and hear a heartbeat, but would require doctors who perform abortions to obtain admitting privileges to a local hospital. Calling these “unacceptable” intrusions into the doctor-patient relationship, the group testified that “[p]hysicians should be deciding with their patients what tests and procedures are needed and will be performed based on the best available medical evidence, guidelines of care, and shared decision making between the patient and physician.”
“Whether you approve or disapprove of abortion, you should be appalled by this,” agreed Peggy Breister, editor of The Reporter. “Why? Because it puts government, not the patient, in the driver’s seat when it comes to making your personal, private health care decisions.”
It is exactly for those reasons that the Wisconsin arm of ACOG also publicly opposed the bill, despite acknowledging their members’ varied stances on performing abortions. As the group said prior to the vote:
The medical practices surrounding elective abortion, including the role of ultrasound when medically indicated, are the domain of the physician-patient relationship, in which the government has no valid role. To force a physician to recite a scripted oral description of the findings if the pregnant woman declines is abusive. The proposed requirements do not make abortion safer for women, but do create unnecessary bureaucratic barriers and add both emotional and financial stress to an already difficult decision.
The bill still needs to be signed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who has said he supports its passage.