Wisconsin Bill AB 371 Adds Complications and Felony Penalty to Abortions

Yesterday, February 8, 2012, the Wisconsin Assembly Health Committee convened. One of the items discussed was Assembly Bill 371. This particular bill has long been touted by Rep. Michelle Litjens and “right to life” groups. I wrote about this particular bill before it had been written. My post from last August can be found here. There is just so much wrong with this bill, it’s hard to know where to start. This post won’t go into too many details on so called “web cam” abortions because my previous post covered that topic in detail.

This bill isn’t about safe and accessible health care for women. It seeks to restrict access to abortions and goes directly against standard health care practices. Do our legislators believe they know medicine and psychology better than trained doctors and counselors? Does it make sense for law makers to legislate medical practices? We should leave medical treatment to the professionals.

This bill also implies that woman are unwilling or unable to make good decisions for themselves. I find that idea offensive and condescending. Women can and do make sound decisions for themselves every day. These women will have to live with her decision whether or not she decides to carry the pregnancy to term and need to be aware of all options available to them.

Michelle Litjens says her main concern is for women to have the ability to say “no” to an abortion if they are coerced. There was a lot of talk about “voluntary consent” at the meeting yesterday and proponents wax poetic on how women had abortions because they felt threatened. They feel that if women have a few minutes alone with a doctor they will suddenly feel “safe” and blurt out they feel threatened and don’t want the abortion. I really don’t see that happening. No law can make anyone tell the truth about their situation and doctor’s aren’t mind readers. They can’t tell when a patient lies to them. The law will take away a woman’s support system when she’s feeling the most vulnerable.

I could see this clause as being abused by anti-choice doctors to coerce the woman into not having an abortion. There is no set amount of time allotted for these doctor and patient one on ones. In theory, an anti-choice doctor can keep up a “private session” until the patient states they no longer want the procedure. Many “pro-life” people will stop at nothing to prevent women from having an abortion. This seems to smack of supposed “right to life” groups saying “it’s not coercion if we do it”.

One example that was brought up is a woman felt threatened if the father of the fetus said “I’ll break up with you if you don’t have the abortion”. Think about it for a second. Nothing the law says will change what he will do if she continues the pregnancy.

This bill provides two areas where physicians can be imposed penalties. One area is in the “voluntary consent” section and the other area deals with abortion-inducing drugs. A doctor could be fined up to $10,000 for violating the new definition of “voluntary consent”. The penalty for not following the “abortion-inducing” drugs clause of this bill is a class I penalty. The bill states:

253.105 Prescription and use of abortion-inducing drugs. (1) In this 
16section:
17(a) “Abortion” has the meaning given in s. 253.10 (2) (a).
18(b) “Abortion-inducing drug” has the meaning given in s. 253.10 (2) (am).
19(c) “Physician” has the meaning given in s. 448.01 (5).
20(2) No person may give an abortion-inducing drug to a woman unless the 
21physician who prescribed, or otherwise provided, the abortion-inducing drug for the 
22woman:
23(a) Performs a physical exam of the woman before the information is provided 
24under s. 253.10 (3) (c) 1.
25(b) Is physically present in the room when the drug is given to the woman.

1(3) Penalty. Any person who violates sub. (2) is guilty of a Class I felony. No 
2penalty may be assessed against a woman to whom an abortion-inducing drug is 
3given.
This is the part of the bill that would prohibit so called “webcam abortions”. The only state that allows this is Iowa. In a December 13, 2011 Cap Times article,

“But Lisa Subeck, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, said the practice has so far been restricted to Iowa, and has been found to have comparable outcomes to conventional procedures. (Here’s an ABC news story about Iowa’s telemedicine procedure.) And it could be a way to extend needed medical services in a state like Wisconsin, where 94 percent of the counties have no abortion providers.”

So called “webcam abortions” could make it easier women in rural areas to get safe, doctor supervised abortions. The health and well being of the woman should come first. Are we going to make all remote care illegal or does this type of law only apply to abortions? Would we even consider charging a doctor with a felony if let’s say a doctor of neurology was working in conjunction with a local physician via webcam to treat a patient? Health care is only as good as your access to it. We could have the best health care in the world, but that doesn’t mean anything if a majority of people can’t access it. Let’s try to increase access to all forms of treatment.

Physicians will also face civil penalties for a medically approved practice. An item that caught my attention is the father can sue the doctor for civil penalties except if the pregnancy was caused by a sexual assault.

“(4) Civil remedies. (a) Any of the following persons has a claim against a 
5person who intentionally or recklessly violates sub. (2):
103. The father of the unborn child aborted as the result of an abortion-inducing 
11drug given in violation of sub. (2), unless the pregnancy of the person to whom the 
12abortion-inducing drug was given was the result of sexual assault in violation of s. 
13940.225, 944.06, 948.02, 948.025, 948.06, 948.085, or 948.09 and the violation was 
14committed by the father.

First off, most rapes are never reported. Most women are hesitant to report being raped and even less willing to do so when the person who assaulted them is their husband or significant other.

Second, there could be a problem identifying who the “father of the unborn child” is. Many times, paternity is unknown until testing is done. Are we going to have to start doing paternity tests before abortions are performed? Are doctors and/or their malpractice insurers going to start requiring these tests in order to prevent a lawsuit? If that’s the case, then women won’t be allowed to have abortions until they are at least 10 weeks into their pregnancy. According to the American Pregnancy Association, paternity tests can be done as early as 10 weeks into the pregnancy. This could lead to expensive and unnecessary medical procedures being performed.

The bill also requires that the woman has to go back to the same clinic for follow up care.

Section 3. 253.10 (3) (c) 1. hm. of the statutes is created to read:
7253.10 (3) (c) 1. hm. If the abortion is induced by an abortion-inducing drug, 
8that the woman must return to the abortion facility for a follow-up visit 12 to 18 days 
9after the use of an abortion-inducing drug to confirm the termination of the 
10pregnancy and evaluate the woman’s medical condition.

Many women have to travel several hours to get to a clinic that provides abortions. This places an unnecessary burden on her. Follow up care could be provided by a local doctor. This type of thing happens a lot in medicine. Many people go to walk in clinics for non life threatening illnesses and injuries because they need medical help outside of office hours. Follow up care can then be provided by their general practitioner. The main concern should be that the woman receive follow up care, not who performs it. Do we want to mandate which doctors a woman can see for follow up care? Shouldn’t that decision be left to the patient?

This bill has left me with more questions than answers and this post doesn’t go into all of the possible negative impacts if this bill becomes a law. Do we want to penalize doctors for doing their jobs? Why would we outlaw a medical procedure that isn’t even being performed here? Do we need a law stating where a woman can receive follow up care after an abortion? Common sense tells doctors they need to look for symptoms of abuse. You can encourage an abused person to seek help, but you can’t force them to take it and you can never force someone to tell the truth. No amount of legislation will make an abused person even admit to the abuse, much less get out of their abusive situation. Let’s not try to legislate the unnecessary or impossible. On a final note, wouldn’t it be great if these “right to life” people put as much time,energy and passion into helping the children already born as they put into their anti-choice agenda?

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