MADISON, Wis. — Anti-abortion advocates, and a Republican U.S. Senate candidate, clashed with University of Wisconsin medical school leaders Tuesday over a proposal that would end an arrangement allowing UW doctors to perform abortions and train students, at Planned Parenthood.
The bill would make it illegal for UW employees to train medical residents, or perform abortions, at Planned Parenthood or any other private facility where abortions are done, other than hospitals.
Supporters say it's needed to prevent state-funded employees at UW from being paid by Planned Parenthood, which they say is a way around a state law forbidding taxpayer-funded abortions. Opponents argue the proposal would put federal accreditation of the university's obstetrics-gynecology program at risk, jeopardizing the quality of the entire medical program.
"This bill does not shut down abortions, this bill shuts down a residency training program," testified Robert Golden, dean of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
The Senate health committee hearing comes after an Assembly panel considered the measure in July. The full Senate and Assembly could vote on the bill this fall, although leaders there have been mum about whether it has enough support to pass and Gov. Scott Walker has not said whether he would sign it.
Republican Sen. Leah Vukmir, chairwoman of the committee that heard the bill, is also running for U.S. Senate and faces a primary challenge from Delafield businessman Kevin Nicholson. She praised the bill during the hearing.
"This is not just a good bill it's a very important bill," Vukmir said, who is a co-sponsor of the measure. She said it will protect taxpayers who oppose abortion from "subsidizing the devastating industry to kill babies at Planned Parenthood. We really cannot stand for unborn babies being killed, even worse on the state's dime."
But Golden and other UW officials said they were following the law that prevents spending public dollars on elective abortions. Under the arrangement first struck in 2008, a handful of UW faculty members provide about 16 to 20 hours of services a week at Planned Parenthood that includes abortions, family planning and disease screening. They are paid an hourly fee of $150.
Because of the law preventing spending taxpayer money on abortions, UW medical school residents get the training they need at the Planned Parenthood clinic. That training is required for the medical school to retain its national accreditation for OB-GYN training, Golden said.
Passing the bill would leave those residents with no place to be trained, Golden testified, which will "destroy" the program and result in residents going to other states. Allowing them to leave Wisconsin will only worsen the state's shortage of OB-GYN's, particularly in rural areas, Golden said.
Joseph Lalli, a second year medical student at UW, said he was worried if the bill passed he would be unprepared to care for patients in the future and may have to transfer to another school.
The bill's co-sponsor, Rep. Andre Jacque, of De Pere, said concerns about its impact on UW's OB-GYN program were exaggerated and that it's a "false argument."
Fifteen groups have registered against the bill, including the Wisconsin Medical Society, the Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians and the Medical College of Wisconsin. Three anti-abortion groups and the Wisconsin Catholic Conference were registered in support.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment. Walker's spokesman did not return a message seeking comment.