Pro-Life Wisconsin files complaints with licensing agency against doctors resuming abortions

MADISON – After being rebuffed by local law enforcement, an official with one of Wisconsin's largest anti-abortion groups has filed complaints with the state's licensing agency against doctors who provide abortions in the weeks after Planned Parenthood resumed those services.

The move comes as advocates on both sides disagree over whether abortion is currently legal in Wisconsin, following a July court order signaling a Dane County judge believes an 1849 law that has been interpreted as a near-total ban on abortion does not, in fact, ban consensual abortions.

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin took the order as a signal of how the judge will rule, and began scheduling appointments for its Madison and Milwaukee clinics on Sept. 14. Prior to that, abortion had been unavailable in Wisconsin for more than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022 overturned Roe v. Wade, which had legalized abortions in the U.S. for 50 years before it was struck down.

Kristin Lyerly, MD, MPH, FACOG
Kristin Lyerly, MD, MPH, FACOG

Dr. Kristin Lyerly, a Green Bay OB-GYN and former Democratic state Assembly candidate, shared with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel a Sept. 28 complaint filed against her with the state Department of Safety and Professional Services. Lyerly, who had previously provided abortions in Wisconsin, started practicing in Minnesota after the Supreme Court's ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization.

Although she told the Journal Sentinel she hasn't yet started practicing in Wisconsin again, Lyerly — who has been floated as a potential challenger to U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher — indicated in a Washington Post report that she would be willing to do so "immediately" following Planned Parenthood's announcement last month.

"My patients tell me their stories and I see their bravery day in and day out. If I can show a fraction of their courage by continuing to fight for our rights as women to control our bodies and against baseless attacks on me personally, it is time well spent," Lyerly told the Journal Sentinel.

Reached by phone, Pro-Life Wisconsin state director Dan Miller told the Journal Sentinel he filed complaints against Lyerly, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and the organization's medical director, Dr. Kathy King.

He said he did so after calling the Dane and Milwaukee County sheriff's offices and the Madison and Milwaukee police departments, "to no avail."

"We just felt we had no other course of action other than to go after the doctors that are actually doing it," Miller said. "They’re publicly flouting the law; they’re breaking the law. … So, if nobody else will try to enforce the law, maybe the Medical Examining Board will enforce (the state's 1849 abortion law)."

"I’m sure all of (the doctors) have medical malpractice insurance," Miller continued. "I’m sure all of those medical malpractice insurance carriers would love to find out whether their doctors are actually following the law."

Miller filed the complaints after Pro-Life Wisconsin, Wisconsin Right to Life and Wisconsin Family Action held a news conference at the state Capitol last week calling on Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm to prosecute doctors who provide abortions. Both have said they will not.

"We will not tolerate hostile, targeted political interference that harms our patients and their families and prevents physicians from providing essential, lifesaving health care," Lyerly said. "I am beyond ready to provide the full spectrum reproductive health care, including abortions, for my fellow Wisconsinites."

In a statement to the Journal Sentinel, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin chief strategy officer Michelle Velasquez said the organization has not received anything from DSPS and is unaware of any complaints lodged against their health care providers or the organization itself.

"We will provide DSPS a response if requested to do so. Any complaints based on PPWI's resumption of abortion services, and against the physicians providing that care, are frivolous and politically motivated," Velasquez said.

When a complaint is filed with DSPS, it is screened to determine whether an investigation is warranted. In some cases, complaints may be closed after the initial review. If an investigation is opened, a copy of the complaint is sent to the licensee for a response. At the conclusion of an investigation, the case can be closed or forwarded on for legal action that can ultimately result in discipline including license revocation.

Proponents of abortion access sued in 2022 to invalidate the 19th century-era abortion law that became the center of Wisconsin politics during the 2022 midterms and the spring Supreme Court race.

Dane County Judge Diane Schlipper makes remarks May 4 at the Dane County Courthouse in Madison during a case being argued by the State of Wisconsin which challenges the 1849 state law that outlaws abortion except to save the mother's life.
Dane County Judge Diane Schlipper makes remarks May 4 at the Dane County Courthouse in Madison during a case being argued by the State of Wisconsin which challenges the 1849 state law that outlaws abortion except to save the mother's life.

On July 7, Dane County Circuit Judge Diane Schlipper denied a motion to dismiss the lawsuit from Sheboygan County District Attorney Joel Urmanski, who argued in May that Attorney General Josh Kaul, who brought the lawsuit, was asking a judge to perform the duties of lawmakers and was ignoring the fact that lawmakers have put forward language to repeal the original abortion law and decided against passing it.

Schlipper in the July 7 order said doctors deserve an answer to which abortion-related state law they should follow now that the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, putting back into effect laws in Wisconsin that were dormant under the 50-year decision.

The judge also signaled she did not believe the law in question applies to abortions but to feticide.

"There is no such thing as an '1849 Abortion Ban' in Wisconsin. A physician who performs a consensual medical abortion commits a crime only 'after the fetus or unborn child reaches viability …'" she wrote, explicitly adding the law does not prohibit consensual medical abortions.

The lawsuit remains active in Dane County Circuit Court. It could eventually make its way to the state Supreme Court, which as of last month has a 4-3 liberal majority.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin anti-abortion group targets doctors' state licenses