MADISON — Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin asked a federal judge on Wednesday to repeal state laws that make it more difficult for women, particularly in rural areas, to receive abortions.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in Madison targets restrictions enacted by the Republican Legislature under former Gov. Scott Walker. The lawsuit comes 10 days after Walker left office, replaced by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
Planned Parenthood wants to repeal laws requiring that only doctors perform abortions; women seeking medicine that causes abortions see the same doctor on two separate visits; and doctors be physically present when dispensing abortion-causing drugs.
The requirements do not enhance the health and safety of patients but rather unconstitutionally limit access to abortions in Wisconsin, argued the lawsuit filed by attorney Lester Pines for Planned Parenthood, its employees and patients.
The lawsuit alleges that the laws violate women's constitutional right to privacy under the 14th Amendment's guarantee of due process and the rights to equal protection under the law for Planned Parenthood's doctors, nurses and patients.
The lawsuit poses a dilemma for Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul. He was supported during the campaign by an arm of Planned Parenthood, but said that as attorney general he would defend the state's laws. His spokeswoman Gillian Drummond was noncommittal.
"In general, the role of the attorney general is to defend state law," she said in a statement. "The Department of Justice will evaluate this case and take appropriate action."
Heather Weininger, executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life, said her group may ask Republican leaders in the Legislature to intervene in the case. Leaders in both the Senate and Assembly did not immediately return messages.
Weininger said she wasn't surprised Planned Parenthood was bringing the lawsuit because she said the group wants to maximize the number of abortions it can perform. She also rejected the characterization of the laws as restricting access to abortions.
"They're for the protection of women," she said. "We want to protect the safety of women and Planned Parenthood doesn't care about that."
Tanya Atkinson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, said in a statement announcing the lawsuit that the group was challenging the laws because they interfere with a woman's ability to make her own health care decisions.
"These restrictions are unconstitutional because they place unnecessary barriers in the way of women seeking health care," she said. "They are not based in health or safety. They exist only to limit access to safe abortion care in Wisconsin, and that is why we are launching this legal challenge."
The requirement that only doctors perform abortions blocks qualified advanced practice nurses, including nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives, from doing the procedure, the lawsuit said.
Under Wisconsin law, it is a felony for anyone other than a doctor to perform an abortion.
The requirement that the same doctor give out medicine to cause an abortion on two separate visits, at least 24 hours apart, is outside the norms of standard medical care, the lawsuit said. Patients often see one medical professional on one visit and then someone else on a follow-up, the lawsuit said. This requirement related to medical abortions is the only place in Wisconsin law where such a law exists, the lawsuit said.
Last, the requirement that doctors who prescribe the drugs be physically present when doing so is a stark departure from how prescription medication is handed out in all other contexts, the lawsuit said.
If successful, women seeking the medicine could consult with doctors via video links or other similar means to avoid having to make return trips to urban clinics where they work. There are four abortion clinics in Wisconsin — two in Milwaukee, one in Madison and one in Sheboygan that's only open about six days a month.
Planned Parenthood could offer abortions at more of its clinics around the state if the laws in question are struck down, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit comes after Planned Parenthood successfully challenged a 2013 law that required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.