MADISON — More than 20,000 signatures were presented at a press conference at the state capitol building January 27 to protest a plan to begin performing second-trimester abortions at the Madison Surgery Center.
The press conference was held by a coalition of pro-life organizations that included Wisconsin Right to Life, Wisconsin Family Council, Christian Life Resources, the Diocese of Madison, Vigil for Life, the Wisconsin Guild of the Catholic Medical Association, Pro-Life Wisconsin, and Christian Medical and Dental Association. These organizations have been vocal in recent weeks in opposition to the plan, which was first exposed to the general public by the nonprofit legal organization Alliance Defense Fund on January 7.
The proposal would open the Madison Surgery Center, a private joint venture of UW Medical Foundation, UW Hospitals and Clinics, and Meriter Hospital, for abortions during the gestational period between 13 and 22 weeks. A decision by the Madison Surgery Center board on the plan is expected to be made at an unscheduled date after each member organization has discussed the plan. The UW Medical Foundation and Meriter Hospital met previously and the UWHC Authority Board planned to discuss it at their board meeting February 4.
“It is particularly troubling that the University of Wisconsin, an institution regarded by the citizens of our state as one dedicated to uplifting the human condition, is promoting the dismemberment of innocent humans,” Susanna Herro, director of the Diocesan Office of Justice and Pastoral Outreach, said in a prepared statement at the press conference. “A human being, no matter how young or how fragile or how vulnerable, deserves the human right to be free from intentionally inflicted death.”
Barbara Lyons, executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life, said that signed petitions objecting to the plan were collected by the various organizations from around the state in a very short time span, and more were expected to arrive in the following days. She said that the issue is of statewide concern because of the reach of the UW health system.
“I don’t think that this is an issue confined to the Madison area,” Lyons said. “I think that people are generally appalled that they might go to a surgery center, say to have arthroscopic surgery on their knee, and know that a baby is being dismembered perhaps in a room next door or down the hall.”
“The collateral damage for this is greater than anyone expects,” said Dr. Bill Evans, a surgeon who practices at Meriter Hospital and one of 13 doctors who signed an open letter to the CEOs and boards of the three organizations. “We think of Madison as just being the doctors who live in Madison and use the hospitals, but there are hundreds of doctors who are in smaller communities around here that refer into the Madison hospitals. And they do have a choice. If they are offended enough, and they are worried about the environment to which they are sending their patients, they will stop doing that.”
“I can’t imagine what University Hospitals and Meriter were thinking of to view this in a positive light,” said State Senator Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend), who spoke briefly at the press conference. Senator Grothman and 29 other state legislators sent a letter January 22 to UWHC President and CEO Donna Katen-Bahensky and other UWHC board members, objecting to the plan.
“I think there’s a reason why there now aren’t any clinics that are doing this, and that is (that) I think the medical professions above all are appalled at this type of thing,” Senator Grothman said. “In one of their press releases, they said they want to step forward and perform a necessary service. This is something that wouldn’t even be legal in most countries in Europe.”
The majority of European countries restrict abortion to 12 or 14 weeks after conception. In Wisconsin, abortions are not legally allowed after “viability,” or the point at which a child may survive outside the womb with or without artificial support, unless to preserve the life or health of the woman. Viability is often estimated at 22 to 24 weeks.
The three member organizations of the Madison Surgery Center released a statement January 9 saying the basis for the plan was the December retirement from Planned Parenthood of Dr. Dennis Christensen, who had performed these second-trimester abortions. The statement said that there existed a “public-health responsibility to provide such procedures as part of a comprehensive program of family planning and reproductive health care that our community deserves.”
According to statistics in a report by the Wisconsin Bureau of Health Information and Policy, approximately 18 percent of the 8,099 abortions in Wisconsin in 2007 were performed after 13 weeks.
“We must take issue with the UW Health statement that callously labeled abortion as a community service,” said Steve Karlen, co-director of Madison Vigil for Life, which had organized a January 8 protest at the clinic. “We cannot conceive of any other service that leads to an astronomically high risk of suicide and substance abuse. So-called family planning services are the only cases where health care is designed to destroy the normal, healthy functioning of the human body.”
Karlen said he has spoken with businessmen who are now looking for alternative insurance plans to avoid patronizing Meriter and UWHC if the plans are approved.
“I invite all businesses, families, and individuals to join them in this boycott,” he said.