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Protesters gather outside the Wisconsin State Capitol on June 24 in Madison during a rally and march for legal abortion. Earlier that day, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe. v. Wade, ending the federally protected constitutional right to an abortion. 

Wisconsin faces two competing realities right now. The majority of Wisconsin voters have, for years, consistently supported access to legal abortion in all or most cases. At the same time, our Legislature, whose makeup is skewed by extreme gerrymandering, has allowed Wisconsin’s archaic 1849 abortion ban to go back into effect, interfering with women’s personal health care decision-making and putting many lives at risk.

On April 4, however, Wisconsin voters have an opportunity to shape how our state Supreme Court could rule on abortion law in our state. As a physician, I’m urging my fellow Wisconsinites to take this opportunity to help protect my patients’ bodily autonomy and help save lives.

Readers may wonder why a doctor like me would be speaking out about the Wisconsin Supreme Court race. The answer is that this year’s election for our state Supreme Court could have profound effects on the practice of medicine, the privacy of doctor-patient relationships, and doctors’ ability to save lives.

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to end nearly five decades of a federal constitutional right to abortion, an archaic law on Wisconsin’s books banning nearly all abortions went back into effect. In a state where nearly six in 10 Wisconsinites back legal abortion access, this 1849 ban isn’t just unpopular, it’s downright dangerous.

In the several months that the ban has been back in effect, we’ve heard countless stories of women suffering unnecessary health complications solely because doctors no longer can legally provide life-saving health care. There’s the woman who bled for 10 days after some emergency room staff were afraid to provide care for her incomplete miscarriage. And the woman who was forced to travel out of state to receive abortion care after she found out the fetus she was carrying had no brain and no chance at survival, putting her own health and future fertility at risk.

Even when a woman’s life isn’t at risk, Wisconsin’s abortion ban sets a dangerous precedent in health care in which the personal beliefs of the few dictate which decisions can be made by the many. Quality health care depends on privacy between patients and their doctors. Decisions around pregnancy and abortion are particularly personal and should only be made by women and their trusted physicians. There is no space in the exam room for politicians or judges.

That’s why the Wisconsin Supreme Court race is so critical.

It’s almost certain that our state Supreme Court will eventually rule on a lawsuit against Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban. The outcome of this lawsuit will depend on who is added to the Wisconsin Supreme Court after the April 4 election. Currently, the court has a 4-3 conservative majority, but that could change with this election.

While this race isn’t partisan, the candidates have made their views on abortion rights clear. Daniel Kelly has been endorsed by anti-abortion activists. Janet Protasiewicz, however, has made her belief in a woman’s freedom to make her own decisions around abortion clear. While candidates cannot directly comment on cases that could come before the court, knowing that Protasiewicz will keep Wisconsinites’ privacy and personal freedom at the forefront of her interpretation of our state laws is reassuring as a physician here.

Last November, Wisconsinites made it quite clear that they trust women to make their own health care decisions, resoundingly reelecting Gov. Tony Evers, who has fought tooth and nail to protect abortion access in the state. But with a Legislature that doesn’t reflect our state’s political makeup and is actively hostile toward abortion rights, our power as voters to make our voices heard on reproductive health care has been limited. With the April 4 Supreme Court election, we have an opportunity to change that.

We have an opportunity to help create a state Supreme Court that protects our personal freedoms and right to privacy in our health care. As a physician and Wisconsinite, I urge my fellow voters to make their voices heard to help restore our abortion rights and save lives.

Madelaine Tully is a family physician in Milwaukee and a member of the Committee to Protect Health Care.

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