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UW-Hospital board approves late-term abortions

The body which oversees the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics approved a plan Thursday providing second-trimester abortions at the Madison Surgery Center.

Still, there are concerns about having enough willing staff, as well as the financial impact from a possible backlash.

Tight security marked a meeting where abortion-rights supporters -- and opponents -- staked out opposite sides of the room, and made their views known during three hours of testimony.

One 45-year-old Madison woman and mother - who only gave her name as Judy - spoke in favor of providing midterm abortions. She said she was eager to have a second child, but instead the pregnancy was ended at 16 weeks because of medical complications. "Judy" told how she was overjoyed to be pregnant, then found out she had a blood clot.

"I found myself in a situation that I needed a second trimester abortion. And I'm married, I'm a working professional and I'm a woman who needs this medical community to stand up and provide health care options," she said.

Three people on the hospital governing board voted against having outpatient abortion services for those too pregnant to go to most other clinics for the procedure. One dissenter was Humberto Vidaillet, a cardiologist at Marshfield Clinic. He's concerned about a possible patient boycott.

"If it impacts the organization financially, adversely, in a substantial way. I'm not sure it's as important as the other wonderful things we are able to provide," he said.

Siding with the 11-member majority was Regent David Walsh. He said he was willing to take the risk of financial backlash because of medical need for second-trimester abortions.

"I come down to the issue of one thing, and that is: is there another place to do this?" Walsh testified.

Currently, Milwaukee is the nearest place to get abortions after 19 weeks. It's not done often. Most abortions are done early in pregnancy. State data shows about 80-percent of women having the procedure are 12 weeks pregnant or less.

Dr. Laurel Rice chairs the oby-gyn department at the UW School of Medicine. She told the governing board that an estimated 120 patients would get abortions at the Madison Surgery Center.

"And it's important to note that about 25-percent of those procedures are performed for lethal fetal abnormalites, meaning the chance of the baby living after birth are nonexistent."

Performing and assisting in the abortions would be voluntary, in line with existing law. But Meriter Hospital gynecologist Karla Dickmeyer says that's no guarantee health workers can follow their conscience.

"These laws are truly not enough to protect individuals," Dickmeyer said. "Even in the case when attending physicians or our instructors do not push the residents to participate in abortions there's pressure from other residents to do so because --in view of residents we all have to do our part. We are a team."

And anesthesiologist Nancy Fredericks said colleagues at the Madison Surgery Center opposing the plan to provide second-trimester abortions feel they've had little input in the process, but have made it clear they won't participate in the procedures.

"Morale is at an all time low at MSC because many of staff have been tormented by the thought of these abortions being done at their facility."

Some, like Republican Senator Glen Grothman, said the name of UW Madison would be "stained" if the UW Hospital governing board approved second-trimester abortions.

Other research hospitals perform such services, and Obstetrics and Gynecology Chair Rice said not doing so is a hindrance in recruiting efforts. Another vote on the abortion proposal could come later this week when the Madison Surgery Center weighs in.