Planned Parenthood will resume abortion services at two clinics in the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s home state of Wisconsin this week. Since in-clinic abortion services have not been available in Wisconsin since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022, this is a monumental change. However, it also signals the dire need for telehealth abortion services.
Last week, Tanya Atkinson, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, stated, “With the recent confirmation from the court that there is not an enforceable abortion ban in Wisconsin, our staff can now provide the full scope of sexual and reproductive health care to anyone in Wisconsin who needs it, no matter what.” This decision is in response to a July ruling by a Wisconsin judge that a 1849 law bans criminal feticide, not voluntary abortion care.
Although reopening clinics for abortion care is a major milestone, it is not a total solution. One of my friends messaged me and asked how I was celebrating the good news. I told her that I really wasn’t because this is simply a band-aid on a major wound.
To be clear, I applaud Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin for moving forward. And I am heartened that many people will be able to access abortion services again. Yet, this decision also highlights just exactly why Wisconsin has been considered a hostile abortion state for decades — and why secular voices can help lead the change for truly equitable abortion services.
Wisconsin currently has three abortion clinics: in Milwaukee, Madison and Sheboygan. As of this writing, there are no independent clinics in Wisconsin; they are all affiliated with Planned Parenthood. The one remaining independent clinic in Milwaukee was forced to shut down last October after abortion was deemed illegal in the Badger State due to the Dobbs decision.
In 2016, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Appleton closed out of security concerns. Indeed, abortion clinics, providers and patients face horrifying levels of stalking, assault and battery, bomb threats and suspicious packages. Expensive security systems are necessary just to operate.
Abortion services at the clinics in Milwaukee and Madison provide both surgical and medication abortion. However, the Sheboygan location, which only provided medication abortion, will not resume abortion services until further notice. Since Sheboygan is the northernmost clinic in the state, thousands of women in the northern part of the state will still need to travel significant distances to get to the nearest clinic in upper Michigan or Minnesota.
And because it will undoubtedly be extremely competitive to get an abortion appointment, even people who live near major Wisconsin cities may have to travel to Illinois for timely care.
Even patients who manage to get an appointment for an abortion in Wisconsin will have to abide by Wisconsin’s archaic and anti-science protocols. After all, Wisconsin is one of 16 states that requires patients to receive abortion counseling in-person and then wait a period of time before the actual appointment. Patients in the state must wait 24 hours after their informed consent counseling session, therefore necessitating two trips to the same facility. Such requirements are medically unnecessary and exacerbate barriers to low-income folks who must pay for gas, hotel, child care and miss work.
Furthermore, Wisconsin law does not permit telehealth services for abortion counseling, even though Wisconsin law permits telehealth for a wide range of health care, including: birth control counseling, HIV services, men’s health care, emergency contraception pills, pregnancy testing and services, STD treatments, vaccines, testing and some other women’s health care. Outrageously, learning about abortion procedures must be done in person.
(As an aside, abortion counseling is ideally an opportunity for patients to learn about abortion procedures. The reality is that many states mandate misleading language and inaccurate facts about fetal health, abortion risks and the reversal of medication abortion. Discussions about abortion medication reversals are completely unscientific and not supported by evidence-based medical organizations).
Since Wisconsin law does not allow one to speak to a provider about abortion via phone or Zoom, it’s no surprise that abortion pills by mail are also prohibited. Abortion pills by mail or through a local pharmacy are extremely safe and make care more affordable and accessible to the most marginalized of communities. And the U.S. Postal Service has ruled that providers can deliver abortion medication by mail — even in states where abortion is banned. However, fear of legal repercussions hinder abortion pill access. After all, women have been prosecutedfor procuring abortion pills by mail. Therefore, an official legal overhaul is necessary in order to make abortion pill access truly equitable for all.
So while I’m cheering that Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin has resumed abortion services at two clinics, I also want to remind us that this is not a panacea. Christian nationalist policies permeate all levels of abortion care. Whether it is misinformation, unnecessary protocols, legal restrictions or clinic harassment, all of these hurdles all go back to the religious right’s idea that women and people who can get pregnant should not have self-determination or bodily autonomy.
We secular activists can help make abortion accessible to Wisconsinites who are forced to travel lengthy distances for care. Learn more about Telehealth Awareness Week here. You can learn more about the Women’s Medical Fund of Wisconsin, also known as WMF Wisconsin, is one of the oldest abortion funds in the nation. The fund was started by FFRF’s principal co-founder Anne Nicol Gaylor to fill gaps to abortion care.
You can also educate yourself and your community about abortion medication here.