The number of Wisconsin's three Planned Parenthood facilities has shrunk once again after the Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin shut down the Appleton North clinic, leaving just three abortion providers — two Planned Parenthood affiliates and an independent clinic — in the state. The Appleton North location has become the sixth Planned Parenthood facility to close since Wisconsin governor Scott Walker slashed the organization's funding in 2014, but rather than restrictive legislation or inadequate funds staffing forcing the closure, the facility has been permanently shut down for security reasons — a loss for women in the state as well as a move that speaks volumes about the current state of reproductive rights in the United States.
"Abortion is an incredibly safe procedure, both medically and in our facilities. Safety of our patients and our staff is our number one priority and one that we are always assessing," Planned Parenthood's Vice President of Communications, Mary Alice Carter, said in a statement provided to Bustle over email. "We need to be sure that we are working on all sides to destigmatize and normalize abortion care so we reduce the toxic environment around care."
According to the Appleton Post Crescent, the Appleton clinic shut down abortion services for six months last fall due to a shortage of staff. After an attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo. last October, which resulted in nine wounded and the deaths of three, the organization had clinics reassess their individual security standards nationwide. The Appleton facility was damaged by a homemade explosive device in 2012, but Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin's chief operating officer, Chris Williams, told the Capitol Times that the facility's 2016 shutdown wasn't in response to a specific threat. Rather, it was ultimately determined that the lot on which the facility was situated was too small to accommodate the security updates that would have needed to be made. These stricter safety regulations could reportedly cost nearly $300,000 to meet.
However, Williams noted that the absence of a specific credible threat doesn't mean the clinic was without harassment; he told the Capitol Times that there are "constant threats" at each Planned Parenthood location across the country. Now that the Appleton location has shut its doors, women in Wisconsin may have to travel hundreds of miles, potentially across state lines, to receive abortion services; the three remaining abortion providers in the state are located in either Madison or Milwaukee. (Planned Parenthood's Appleton Central clinic will remain open, but it doesn't provide abortions.)
It's become routine to point out that reproductive rights are being targeted across the country — and the very fact that it's routine is a problem in and of itself. The shutdown of the Appleton clinic exemplifies the obstacles facing abortion providers today: Even when they aren't operating under absurd restrictions imposed on them by state legislatures, abortion clinics are in danger of acts of violence from anti-abortion extremists. No medical facility should have to choose between providing services and ensuring the safety of their patients and staff, but that's exactly the decision Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin was forced to make. And as a reminder, it's a decision Planned Parenthood has been forced to make even though abortions are absolutely legal in the United States.
"The recent political rhetoric has created a dangerous environment for women’s health. If we truly value women’s health and wellbeing, elected leaders would work to improve health care access and leave personal health care decisions to a woman, her doctor and her faith," Dr. Kathy Hartke, Chair of the Wisconsin Section of American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said in a statement.
As always, women are the ones who suffer in the wars over reproductive rights. Research indicates that anti-abortion legislation doesn't reduce the abortion rate; it just causes women to turn to illegal (and potentially unsafe) methods instead. Unfortunately, according to a 2011 study, 87 percent of counties in the United States lacked an abortion provider, and more than a third of women of reproductive age called these counties home. Furthermore, Planned Parenthood itself provides much more than abortion services; the organization offers STD tests, breast exams, and Pap smears in addition to abortions. If the shutdowns continue, women stand to lose the most.
This piece has been updated to include a statement and additional information from Planned Parenthood.