Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin has suspended abortion services at its Appleton North Health Center, leaving the state with three abortion providers, all located in Madison and Milwaukee.
Planned Parenthood’s separate family planning center in Appleton will remain open, but for now, staff are referring people seeking abortions to clinics in Madison in Milwaukee. Iris Riis, a representative for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, said that the temporary closure is due to a gap in staff coverage.
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin officials said they hope that the Appleton North Health Center will be able to resume providing abortion care in about six months.
The distance to and volume of patients at the state’s remaining clinics are immense hurdles for providers and patients seeking care. Since the October 14 closure, there has been one clinic per one million women in the state, according to Census data.
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“This was a tough decision to make because we understand that it means some patients will have to travel further to access abortion care and additional delays are a possibility with such limited access,” Teri Huyck, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, said in a statement. “It is too early to determine the full impact on patients in need, but we are doing all we can to minimize the impact of this temporary change on our patients.”
“The environment in the state is too restrictive and too discouraging for there to be adequate services available for women throughout the state,” said Sara Finger, executive director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health. “These hurdles that get put up are not only hurdles for the patients but incredible hurdles for the health care providers.”
Wisconsin’s Republican-led legislature has introduced a number of anti-choice measures in recent years. Planned Parenthood successfully blocked a law in 2013 that would have required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of their clinic. In July, Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed a 20-week abortion ban into law, making Wisconsin the 15th state to pass such a ban. SB 179 criminalizes performing or inducing an abortion at or beyond 20 weeks.
The bill is based on the medically inaccurate claim that a fetus is capable of experiencing pain.
The suspension of abortion services at Appleton North comes at a time when Planned Parenthood is facing political pressure from GOP lawmakers in light of the surreptitiously recorded, highly edited videos leaked by an anti-choice front group called the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). CMP has coordinated its smear campaign alongside Republican legislators on the state and federal level.
Riis stressed that the suspension in abortion care services is not related to the political attacks launched against the health-care organization in recent months. “It’s an odd coincidence in timing,” Riis said.
Finger believes it’s possible that the medical staffing issues are directly related to the political climate in Wisconsin. The Guttmacher Institute considers the state to be “extremely hostile” to abortion rights, meaning it has six to ten restrictions in effect.
“This is exactly what the legislative majority in the state has been aiming to do all along, is make harder and harder for these services to remain available,” Finger said. “People are not aware of how restrictive our laws are, and how hard it is to get access to comprehensive reproductive health care.”
“There is no doubt that abortion access in Wisconsin is tenuous,” Huyck said in a statement. “With only four clinics [including Appleton] in Wisconsin and ongoing efforts to further reduce access to abortion, abortion access is threatened.”