Wisconsin abortion restrictions demoralize healthcare providers and deprive patients of medical care

What do people experience when they try to get an abortion amidst so much legislative restriction? New research from Wisconsin, where abortion access was already heavily limited prior to the reversal of Roe v. Wade, illuminates how abortion restrictions affect healthcare providers and patients.

Act 217, a piece of Wisconsin legislation that went into effect in 2012, made Wisconsin one of the most restrictive environments for medication abortion care in the United States. In addition to banning the use of telehealth for abortion services, Act 217 required that patients return two or three times to see the same physician for medication abortion care. That means that if a patient was unable to schedule an appointment with the same physician over the required timeframe, they would not have been able to receive medication abortion.

UW CORE researchers interviewed 22 abortion care providers about the impact of Act 217 on providing medication abortion care. The providers unanimously reported that Act 217 negatively affected their ability to care for their patients. For instance, they said that the same-provider provision resulted in significant delays, increased medical risks to patients, and burnout and despair among providers. They also reported that a ban on telehealth for medication abortion put abortion care out of reach for people living in rural areas, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Providers further explained that the negative effects of Act 217 were compounded by other Wisconsin abortion restrictions, like a mandated 24-hour waiting period. The providers noted that the harms of these laws disproportionately and unfairly affected rural and low-income Wisconsinites.

Now that Roe v. Wade has been repealed, abortion access is determined at the state level. These findings can help healthcare providers, policymakers, and people all over the country understand the impact of state-level bans and restrictions.

This research study, coauthored by Taryn Valley, Meghan Zander, Laura Jacques, and Jenny Higgins, appears in the latest issue of the Wisconsin Medical Journal. You can read the article here.