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Wisconsin’s OB-GYN Shortage Could Get Worse if Republicans Get Their Way

Teddy Wilson

A GOP lawmaker is taking aim at the University of Wisconsin's arrangement allowing OB-GYN residents to receive training in abortion care at Planned Parenthood's Madison clinic.

A Wisconsin GOP lawmaker’s crusade against Planned Parenthood could cost the state’s flagship university millions and exacerbate the state’s shortage of OB-GYNs.

Wisconsin is facing a shortage of physicians who provide obstetrics and gynecological care, as 20 of the state’s 72 counties lack an OB-GYN, reports the Associated Press.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health this fall launched the nation’s first rural residency program for OB-GYNs, with the hopes of increasing the number of doctors who can provide OB-GYN care in underserved areas.

But a bill pending in the GOP-held state legislature threatens to undermine the university’s efforts.

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AB 206, sponsored by Rep. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere), would prohibit a University of Wisconsin employee from performing or assisting in the performance of an abortion.

The bill would bar a university employee “in the scope of his or her employment” from providing abortion care for a private entity other than a hospital. University employees would also be prohibited from providing or receiving training in performing abortions, unless the training occurs at a hospital.

UW-Madison has an arrangement with Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin allowing faculty to train OB-GYN residents in abortion care at the organization’s Madison clinic. The Republican bill would bar this arrangement, leaving residents without an alternative resource for training in abortion care.

The bill is the latest chapter in Jacque’s crusade against Planned Parenthood.

Jacque was among the most vocal supporters of 2011 legislation to prohibit state funds for abortion providers. In 2015, Jacques introduced a bill to divert Title X family planning funds away from Planned Parenthood.

Nicole Safar, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, told the Associated Press that the bill would have a significant effect not just on access to abortion care, but on state residents’ access to basic reproductive health care.  

“The impact will be overall access to OB-GYNs,” Safar said. “The intent Andre Jacque has for this bill is not at all the impact it will have in the real world.”

UW-Madison officials have raised concerns about the bill’s possible effects on the university’s OB-GYN residency program.

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), a national organization that provides accreditation for graduate medical programs, requires that medical schools offer training in abortion care in order to obtain and maintain accreditation. Residents who have a religious or moral objection to abortion must be allowed to opt out of the training without repercussions, according to ACGME guidelines.

Susan White, ACGME spokesperson, told the Associated Press that the organization would not comment on whether any university has lost accreditation for failing to provide residents with training in abortion care.

But the organization published a statement clarifying that while it does not take a position on the pending legislation, all obstetrics and gynecology residency programs must include an “opportunity for direct procedural training in terminations of pregnancy.”

The state assembly committee on science and technology on Tuesday held a hearing on the billJacque testified that the intent of the bill was to “terminate the appalling arrangement” between UW-Madison and Planned Parenthood.

Jacque disputed criticisms of the bill’s impact on the university, claiming the bill would not result in loss of accreditation for the university’s residency program. “I am 100 percent confident that UW is not going to see any significant repercussions as a result of this,” Jacque said.

Dr. Robert Golden, dean of the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, testified that the bill was of “grave concern,” and said the bill would make it impossible for the medical school to meet the accreditation requirements.

“AB 206 will result in the loss of accreditation of our OB-GYN training program because the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education clearly requires that OB-GYN programs provide training or access to training in the provisions of abortions as part of a planned and supervised curriculum,” Golden said.

Lisa Wilson, senior legal counsel for UW-Madison, testified that the university is already complying with a 2011 statute that prohibits state funds from being used for abortion services.

“State funds are not paid to a physician. We don’t take state taxpayer dollars and pay them to a physician to perform an abortion. Those services are billed to Planned Parenthood that reimburses that cost,” Wilson said.

If the bill becomes law it could not only result in UW-Madison’s residency program losing accreditation. It could also cost both the university and the community millions of dollars, according to a state report on the bill’s fiscal impact.

The report states that the financial impact on the University of Wisconsin and the state’s medical industry would be “significant.”

Loss of accreditation would result in faculty departing, costing the university about $4 million in extramural grants and clinical trials receipts, according to the fiscal report. The search, recruitment, and startup support for at least 22 private practice OB-GYNs would cost Wisconsin another $3.3 million.

The bill remains pending in committee.

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