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Wisconsin Needs and Deserves a Patients Reproductive Health Act

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 17/11/2015 Sara Finger
WOMEN DOCTOR © Dan Dalton via Getty Images WOMEN DOCTOR

Like many states around the nation, Wisconsin's legislature has engaged in an unprecedented attack on reproductive health care over the past four years. From completely unnecessary admitting privilege requirements for abortion clinics to mandatory ultrasounds meant to shame women considering whether to access abortion care, Wisconsin has joined the troubling national trend of enacting laws based on junk science under the false guise of protecting women's health. Sadly, the goal of these harmful laws is to restrict access and compromise women's reproductive health care.
As the Executive Director of a nonprofit dedicated to promoting comprehensive women's wellbeing, my organization has worked hard to hold the line against these attacks on women's health and will continue to do so whenever similar measures are introduced. However, I also believe that advocates for women's health must also put forward a positive vision of reproductive health care that is centered on the needs of patients, not political agendas.
That is why I am proud to support the Patients Reproductive Health (PRH) Act, which is being unveiled in Wisconsin by Representative Chris Taylor and Senator Jon Erpenbach this week. The PRH Act envisions a world where women can access comprehensive reproductive health care services -- from contraception to abortion -- free from political interference, misleading information, or threats to their safety. In addition, the PRH Act recognizes the critical role that health care clinicians play in the ensuring quality patient care and would protect their rights to provide medically accurate and comprehensive care to their patients without interference from politicians or threats to their safety from anti-abortion extremists.
The lynchpin of the PRH Act is the concept that the doctor-patient relationship should be grounded in medical science and trust. Most people take it for granted that this should be the case when they consult with their doctor, but that isn't the case for women trying to access reproductive health care in Wisconsin. For instance, in order for a woman to access abortion care in Wisconsin, the state mandates that her doctor read a lengthy script that is purported to provide her with "informed consent," but in fact contains information that is medically inaccurate or irrelevant. I am not aware of any other field of medicine where politicians require doctors to subject their patients to medically dubious lectures intended to sway their personal medical decisions.
The PRH Act recognizes that this type of political interference with the doctor-patient relationship is insulting to both patients and doctors and would put an end to it. The vast majority of politicians are not health care professionals and have absolutely no specialized medical training or knowledge. While elected officials certainly have a role to play in setting broader health care policies, that role does not extend to substituting their personal political preferences for the medical training and clinical judgment of trained health care professionals. The PRH Act would ensure that all patients have the right to make important decisions about their reproductive health information based on the best medical science available and without the inappropriate interference of political agendas.
The PRH Act also offers a unique approach to both increasing access to comprehensive reproductive health care and to addressing the related debate regarding conscience rights of individuals. Under the bill, all hospitals that provide maternity care to women would be required to allow willing health care professionals on staff to provide reproductive health care services -- from contraception to abortion -- to patients who request them. The bill would continue to honor the conscience rights of those individual health professionals who do not wish to provide reproductive care. However, the PRH Act also recognizes that there are reproductive health care professionals who feel they have a religious or moral obligation of their own to affirmatively provide such care to patients who need it and thus honors their conscience rights as well, leading to a much more inclusive approach than current law.
This approach appropriately places the burden of providing comprehensive and adequate on institutions, not individuals. This is especially important in Wisconsin because of the consolidation of many regional health care provider networks in Wisconsin, some of which refuse to provide comprehensive reproductive health care to patients. Most importantly, this provision puts the focus of health care policy on what should always be our first priority: the needs of patients.
Lastly, the PRH Act addresses the sad and disturbing reality that many professionals and patients continue to face harassment, intimidation, and sometimes even violence from a small minority of extremists who oppose reproductive health services. Those on the front lines of providing reproductive health care often speak of the harrowing treatment to which they, their families, and their patients are subjected. The statistics speak for themselves about the continued acts of disruption and intimidation directed at both abortion care providers and patients. While Wisconsinites certainly value vigorous political debate from all viewpoints, including reproductive health policies, intimidation and violence are never acceptable. The PRH Act will ensure that Wisconsin law can effectively address situations where some extremist individuals or organizations cross the line from advocacy to dangerous or threatening behavior.
I know that it's been a discouraging few years for proponents of reproductive health care in Wisconsin, but I'm excited to start talking about this transformative new vision for our state. It's time to stop simply reacting to all of the bad news and start laying out an aspirational agenda to help shape Wisconsin's and our nation's future reproductive health care policies for the better. If you care about these issues as much as I do, I hope that you join me in supporting the Patients Reproductive Health Act.

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