Wisconsin forces women to come to Minnesota for abortions

Access to abortion in Minnesota continues to attract women from all over the Midwest.

Access to abortion in Minnesota continues to attract women from all over the Midwest.

When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a 20-week abortion ban into law on Monday, he made it a felony to perform an abortion after that point except when the woman's on the verge of death. There are no exceptions for victims of rape and incest. There’s no compromise for the woman who may have wanted to keep her baby, but was only able to discover at her 20-week ultrasound that it would be born without kidneys.

There’s really no hope for Wisconsin women who are worried about the toll on their own health for carrying a 20-week fetus to term – except to flee the state for Minnesota, Illinois, or Michigan. Which they do. Almost as standard practice.

Since Walker’s been in office, Planned Parenthood has been defunded to the point where it has only three clinics serving the entire state of Wisconsin, and only one other private clinic in Milwaukee practices abortion. Doctors are required to give patients “counselling” designed to guilt trip them. Though there’s no medical need for it, women are also forced to look at an ultrasound. There must be a 24-hour delay between the first doctor’s appointment and the actual procedure.

“Speaking as someone who’s trying not to get pregnant, I would not subject myself to that,” says Eliza Cussen, who sits on the board of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, the political arm of the state’s abortion rights movement. “I would travel to the Twin Cities if that were the case. Access is almost nonexistent. There are a number of physical access barriers and emotional barriers that prevent Wisconsin women from getting care in their own state.”

The situation is so dire that some organizations have special funding set aside to help women travel to Minnesota. The Women’s Medical Fund in Madison, for example, buys people Greyhound tickets.

Most won’t feel Walker’s new ban because the number of women who get abortions after the 20-week mark dwindles to about 1 percent. There won’t be a new flood of Wisconsin women to St. Paul because of the new law, says Nicole Safar, government relations director at Planned Parenthood Wisconsin. However, the women who will be affected are those for whom it will be most dangerous to travel.

“A lot of the physicians that testified against this bill said they thought there would be many cases where a woman’s health would be at risk, but it wouldn’t qualify for a medical emergency,” Safer says. “This is the state of Wisconsin making pregnancy more dangerous for women, saying to women who have preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced high blood pressure), ‘You’re not quite going to die, but even if you’re not doing that great, you’re going to have to travel.’”

Over the years, Planned Parenthood Minnesota has gotten used to taking in patients from neighboring states. Spokeswoman Jen Aulwen says it remains to be seen whether Walker’s 20-week ban will drive significant numbers over the border, but Minnesota regularly treats women from North and South Dakota as well.

There’s one abortion clinic each in both North and South Dakota. Aulwen recalls that since legislators in South Dakota passed a bill mandating patients wait at least 72 hours after the first doctor consultation, there was a woman there who ended up calling Nebraska, Montana, and North Dakota trying to take the abortion pill at nine weeks.

“Eventually, she came to St. Paul,” Aulwen says. “In the end she made a six-hour trip both ways and stayed overnight. She was able to come on Saturday so she didn’t have to miss work, but it took her calling four different states.”

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