Planned Parenthood Challenged Wisconsin’s Abortion Laws & It Could Get Complicated

by Joseph D. Lyons
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Women in Wisconsin currently face several laws that make it harder to get an abortion — but a few may not stand for much longer. In federal court Wednesday, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin sued to overturn abortion laws in the state that limit access to medical abortions and stop nurse practitioners from performing any abortions, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

The lawsuit focuses on three laws, according to the Associated Press, including one that makes it a felony for anyone who is not a doctor to perform an abortion. Planned Parenthood argues that licensed nurse practitioners and nurse-midwives could also safely perform some types of abortions.

That assessment's in line with findings by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Public Health Association, and the World Health Organization, according to the lawsuit. However, Wisconsin is one of many states to limit providing abortions to physicians.

The second law in question requires that doctors be physically present to perform an abortion. If overturned, women could have a medical abortion without having to visit a far-away clinic. Women could instead talk with a doctor or nurse through video chat and then self-administer the required medication. The third law requires women to see the same doctor twice on two separate visits to get the abortion drug.

Tanya Atkinson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, released a statement on Wednesday after the case was filed:

PPWI is challenging these restrictions because they interfere with a woman’s ability to make her own health care decisions and make it more difficult to access the care she needs. These restrictions are unconstitutional because they place unnecessary barriers in the way of women seeking health care. They are not based in health or safety. They exist only to limit access to safe abortion care in Wisconsin, and that is why we are launching this legal challenge.

One unknown is what Wisconsin's Democratic attorney general, Josh Kaul, will do about the lawsuit. He's was just elected in the fall with the support of Planned Parenthood, The Journal Sentinel reported. Kaul has said, however, that he would defend Wisconsin laws before the election. "I think the AG’s job is to defend state statutes and state agency actions if there is a legally defensible position to take," Kaul said in October.

If he chose not to, Republicans in the state legislature could intervene. Heather Weininger, executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life, told The Journal Sentinel that Kaul "won't be able to properly defend this" and pointed to the legislature. Under laws passed in December's lame-duck session, Wisconsin's Republican legislators can hire their own attorney to defend state laws.

The last time Wisconsin's state abortion laws were challenged was in 2013. At the time, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin challenged the statute passed by a Republican legislature and signed by former Gov. Scott Walker that required doctors providing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The state lost and was forced to pay Planned Parenthood $1.6 million for legal costs associated with the case.

Kaul could argue he's trying to save that money by choosing not to defend the law, but Republicans in the legislature could easily spend more on private council if they choose to go that route.