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Overturning of Roe v. Wade causes confusion for Wisconsin physicians

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The Friday decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade is causing confusion for some Wisconsin physicians.

Because of the justices’ decision, Wisconsin is reverting to an abortion law first passed in 1849. That law states, in part, that an abortion may not be performed unless the patient’s doctor is “advised by 2 other physicians as necessary, to save the life of the mother.”

However, the law does not clarify what that threat to the mother’s life would be.

“Right now, we’re relying on legislation that was crafted at a time when we didn’t have access to the treatment and diagnosis techniques we do now,” Dr. Amy Domeyer said.

Domeyer is a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist who also serves as the legislative chair for the Wisconsin Section of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Among the murky conditions Domeyer described are if a woman’s amniotic fluid, or water, breaks before the fetus is able to live outside the womb.

If that happens, she said the woman is at increased risk of developing a severe infection that could threaten her life. Before, Domeyer said a physician could give a patient the option of monitoring the pregnancy, with frequent testing for infection, delivering early, or having an abortion.

Now, she said abortion is only an option if the mother develops an infection so severe that she could die. What’s unclear is how sick a patient needs to be for that to be an option.

“Do we have to wait until a patient is in an ICU and critically ill before providing this care? It doesn’t say,” she said. “It’s not black and white.”

There’s also the concern of prosecution. Under the 1849 law, performing an abortion could be considered a Class E felony. Anyone convicted of that faces up to 15 years in prison and/or a $50,000 fine.

The possibility of a conviction and prison time could cause some physicians to delay care.

“I never want to wait to provide treatment until someone may die,” Domeyer said. “But I don’t want to have to worry about leaving my family for a felony conviction.”

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