MADISON, Wis. - Planned Parenthood plans to resume offering abortion in Wisconsin next week, more than a year after it stopped providing the service because of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning the right to abortion.
Planned Parenthood and others stopped providing abortions after the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization because of an 1849 law that was broadly viewed as banning nearly all abortions.
The Wisconsin attorney general, a Democrat, sued in state court to try to overturn that law. A judge in July issued an initial ruling that concluded the 1849 law did not ban anyone from seeking abortions but rather barred someone from battering a pregnant woman and killing her unborn child. The judge is expected to issue a final ruling in the case soon, but Planned Parenthood announced Thursday it was not waiting for that ruling and instead would resume offering services on Monday at clinics in Milwaukee and Madison.
“With patients and community as our central priority and driving force, we are eager to resume abortion services and provide this essential care to people in our State,” Tanya Atkinson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, said in a statement.
The case before the Dane County judge is expected to continue and other lawsuits could be filed in response to Planned Parenthood’s resumption of abortion services.
Kristin Lyerly, an OB/GYN who performed abortions in Wisconsin before Roe v. Wade was overturned, said she will immediately return to providing abortions in her home state.
While it’s “uncomfortable” to resume abortion care before the judge issues a final ruling, she said, she trusts the Planned Parenthood lawyers, who she says have had several conversations with her about this decision.
“I’m not a lawyer. I have to trust the people on my team,” Lyerly said.
To provide abortions again in Wisconsin, she said, “I’m willing to put my career on the line.”
Heather Weininger, executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life, criticized Planned Parenthood for not waiting for the final ruling.
“We’re hugely disappointed for the moms and the pre-born babies here in the state,” Weininger said.
Planned Parenthood clinics are already scheduling appointments, Lyerly said - and the slots are likely to fill up quickly.
Wisconsin borders Illinois, which has become a major destination state for women traveling from states with abortion bans, with clinics there struggling to absorb patients from across the South and Midwest. In 2019, before the fall of Roe, 6,430 abortions were performed in Wisconsin, according to data compiled by KFF, a nonpartisan health research organization.
While this development is an important step toward restoring abortion access in Wisconsin, Lyerly said, there’s still more to do. The Planned Parenthood clinic in Sheboygan, Wis. will not resume abortion care, said Lyerly - which means women in the northern part of the state will continue to have to drive several hours for care.
“I’m fearful that people will think it’s over, and it’s not nearly over,” she said.
The district attorneys in Milwaukee County and Dane County, where Madison is located, are Democrats who have said they would not enforce an abortion ban. The district attorney in Sheboygan County is a Republican who has said he would enforce the ban.
Seventeen states have banned all or most abortions as the abortion landscape has fundamentally shifted since the Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established a right to abortion. Abortion rights groups have turned to state courts as one of the quickest and only ways to attempt to restore access in a post-Roe America in some states - and they’ve had mixed results.
The development in Wisconsin comes six weeks after liberals took a 4-3 majority on the state Supreme Court, which is likely to review the case in the coming months. The newest liberal member of the court, Janet Protasiewicz, championed abortion rights when she ran for the court this spring, and her critics have questioned whether she could participate in cases on abortion. If she were to step aside in any case, the court would be ideologically divided, with three liberals and three conservatives.
Republicans who control the legislature have threatened to impeach Protasiewicz if she does not step aside in separate cases over gerrymandering. Protasiewicz has not said if she will participate in those cases, and it’s unclear if Republicans will carry through with their warnings on impeachment.
After the trial court judge rules on the abortion law, the case will probably go to an appeals court. If the Supreme Court were to split 3-3, the appeals court ruling would stand.
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Rachel Roubein in Washington contributed to this report.