Abortion restrictions could be even worse under new House Speaker Mike Johnson | Opinion

Abortion is an essential and life-saving aspect of women’s health care

Kristin Lyerly
Special to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

After a weeks-long battle to fill the Speaker vacancy in the House of Representatives, Republicans elected Rep. Mike Johnson, an anti-abortion extremist, to the position. As an OB-GYN from Green Bay who has spent my career advocating for the health of my patients, I know that Speaker Johnson's extreme anti-abortion agenda puts the health and futures of Wisconsinites even more in peril than they already are under the state’s current 1849 abortion ban.

Johnson holds dangerous views on abortion and has spent his tenure in Congress championing legislation to ban abortion nationwide, as well asbans andfetal personhood bills. He wants to ban abortion in all circumstances,tweetingin celebration of the fall of Roe v. Wade that “we will get the number of abortions to ZERO.”

No one knows better than doctors who care for women that propaganda like this is both ridiculous and dangerous. Abortion is an essential and life-saving aspect of women’s health care. It’s a key part of miscarriage management and helping people with complicated pregnancies that can put their lives at risk. Abortion will never go away, no matter what extremist politicians might promise.

As a doctor who has been unable to provide care, including abortion care, to my patients in Wisconsin, I was particularly alarmed to see Speaker Johnson’scommentsin support of sentencing doctors like myself to hard labor in prison for serving our patients. Johnson wants to roll back our rights to the 1800s, even citing amedical report from 1859to support a total abortion ban.These comments hit home for me as fanatical politicians in Wisconsin are holding women and families hostage with an 1849 criminal abortion ban that threatens to put doctors in jail for performing nearly all abortions in the state.

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Those seeking abortions should be able to access safe and reliable reproductive care, and prosecuting doctors who provide abortions jeopardizes the future of women’s health care in a state already plagued by a physician shortage. OB-GYN residency applications have decreased bymore than ten percentin states like Wisconsin, where abortion has been banned sinceRoe v. Wadewas overturned, as physicians feel more secure practicing where abortion laws don’t restrict the standard of care.

This leads to more avoidable medical emergencies for miscarriage care and high-risk pregnancies. It can also lead to morematernity care desertsthat lack adequate reproductive health care. Almostone-fifth of Wisconsin’s countiesare currently considered maternity care deserts, disproportionately harming people in rural areas.

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Since Wisconsin’s near-total ban on abortion wasreinstated after the fall ofRoe, I have witnessed how dangerous and heartbreaking it is for my patients when politics interferes with my ability to do my job and prevents me from providing the full spectrum of abortion care that I once could. I have counseled patients on family planning throughout my career and understand abortion as both a deeply personal decision and a medically necessary procedure that must be protected. People choose to have abortions for various reasons, and all are choices they should have the freedom to make.

Some of the patients I counseled were already parents and could not afford to raise another child. Others faced dangerous complications or learned that their child would not survive after birth.No one should make these difficult, highly individualized decisions but the person who is pregnant, their doctor, and the people they love and trust.

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Let me make this clear: Mike Johnson is an anti-abortion crusader who will stop at nothing to ban abortion far and wide in this country. He has literally spent his career fighting to end access to abortion care. As a seniorattorney and spokesperson for Alliance Defending Freedom, he supported the political group that engineered the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

All of these efforts have earned him an A+ rating from the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. It angers me that House Republicans, even those who call themselves “moderates,” would elect someone so loudly anti-abortion – someone who wants to enact a nationwide ban, even thoughAmericans overwhelmingly opposepassing a national ban on abortion. There’s nothing moderate about that.

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As I’ve seen in Wisconsin, state abortion bans are dangerous, and a national ban is a terrifying thought. Republicans often shy away from discussing abortion because they know bans are unpopular; yet, they still will elect leaders who are working to set our country back with their harmful anti-abortion agenda. As a physician, I will continue to fight to protect these rights and ensure my patients receive the essential care they need, and I know that Wisconsinites will step up and stand together, for ourselves and each other.

Dr. Kristin Lyerly is an OB-GYN from Green Bay. She ran for the State Assembly as a Democrat in 2020.