UW warns anti-abortion bill could worsen OB-GYN shortage

MADISON — A Republican bill that would block University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty from training resident physicians in abortions would worsen a shortage of obstetrics/gynecological providers in the state, school officials say.

UW-Madison must provide abortion training to maintain its national accreditation for OB-GYN training, Robert Golden, dean of the university’s medical school, said. Without that accreditation, would-be OB-GYNs would find residencies in other states, he said. Twenty of Wisconsin’s 72 counties already lack an OB-GYN, according to the American Medical Society.

“This simple act will clearly lead to the loss of accreditation but the damage will go far beyond the residency program,” Golden said.

The measure’s author, Rep. Andre Jacque of De Pere, says UW’s fears are overblown. He said he doubts they would lose accreditation.

“I’m trying to get UW out of the abortion business,” he said. “I’m on pretty firm ground here.”

The national Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education requires medical schools to offer to train residents in performing abortions to obtain and maintain accreditation. Residents with moral or religious objections can opt out.

Susan White, a spokeswoman for the accreditation council, declined to comment when asked whether the council has ever revoked an accreditation for failing to provide abortion training. She said the council doesn’t comment on programs and institutions’ accreditation status.

The UW School of Medicine and Public Health, Aurora Health Care and the Medical College of Wisconsin all train OB-GYN residents in how to perform abortions.

Wisconsin law blocks spending public dollars on elective abortions, so the UW medical school has an agreement with Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin in which that organization pays UW physicians to perform abortions and train OB-GYN residents in how to perform abortions at its Madison clinic.

Jacque’s bill, introduced in April, would prohibit UW employees from performing abortions as well as training others or receiving training in performing abortions anywhere other than a hospital. Since the training requires participating in abortions and government dollars can’t be used to facilitate abortions, the training can’t take place at the university hospital. That would leave nowhere for UW residents to obtain it. They would have to join another residency program if they wanted to become a certified OB-GYN.

Not only would OB-GYN residents look elsewhere, faculty instructors also would likely leave the state to join accredited programs, Golden said.

“Nobody would choose to come here,” Golden said.

Nicole Safar, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, Planned Parenthood’s lobbying arm, said Planned Parenthood’s Madison clinic would continue to offer abortions using other physicians if the bill passed. But she warned the measure would mean even fewer OB-GYNs for Wisconsin.

“(Jacque) is trying to sever that relationship between UW and Planned Parenthood,” Safar said. “(But) the impact will be overall access to OB-GYNs. The intent Andre Jacque has for this bill is not at all the impact it will have in the real world.”

In a memo seeking co-sponsors for the bill, Jacque, one of the staunchest social conservatives in the Assembly, wrote that the legislation would end the “appalling arrangement” in which Planned Parenthood purchases UW faculty’s time to perform abortions.

He said in a telephone interview that UW’s OB-GYN residents could still get abortion training on their own time and UW doctors could work for Planned Parenthood as a second job if they want to perform abortions.

UW’s complaints about losing accreditation are exaggerated, he said. He pointed out that Arizona passed a law in 2011 that prevents public and tuition dollars from being spent on abortion training and the University of Arizona’s medical schools haven’t lost their OB-GYN residency accreditations.

A spokeswoman for the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix referred a request for comment to a colleague who wasn’t immediately available. A spokesman for UA Health Services in Tucson didn’t immediately return a message.

The bill is scheduled for a public hearing in front of the Assembly’s Science and Technology Committee on Tuesday, but its fate looks uncertain.

Eleven groups have registered in opposition to the bill, including Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health and the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Pro-Life Wisconsin and Wisconsin Right to Life have registered in support.

Aides for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald didn’t reply to emails seeking comment on the measure’s prospects.