Opinion: Wisconsin’s abortion ban endangers my patients’ lives and makes my job harder

It’s starting to feel as if women are invisible to our elected leaders.

Dr. Kristin Lyerly is a Board Certified OB/Gyn specializing in General Obstetrics and Gynecology for rural and underserved people.

People often ask me why I chose a career in obstetrics and gynecology, not uncommonly while I’m performing their pelvic exam. Besides the obvious, and especially in our current political climate, I can understand why they would question that decision. Here’s what I tell them.

It is an absolute joy to help someone bring life into the world, and a profound sorrow to see life taken away. I understand that medical decisions are deeply personal and highly individualized, and that my job is to listen, educate, and support. Although I am a mother of four sons and have been a physician for nearly 20 years, I still can’t anticipate what my patient will share when I create a welcome space in my exam room and she approaches her concern from her unique perspective.

Arbitrary barriers that take away our rights and prevent women from receiving necessary, life-altering health care are commonplace in Wisconsin. It wasn’t until 1976 that unmarried women were able to obtain birth control in the state. Following the election of Gov. Scott Walker in 2010, a series of laws whittled away access to contraception, cancer screening, and abortion. And now, a criminal ban from 1849 that would jail physicians for providing abortions is also preventing people from seeking fundamental reproductive care, including miscarriage management, infertility treatment, and even basic contraception including Plan B. The chilling effect on doctors and patients alike is real, and it is costing the people of our state dollars, talent, and frankly, lives.

I have taken care of people who are afraid to start a family, worried that something unfortunate will happen and they won’t be able to get the care they need. Physicians in training and medical students see it from the other side, wondering whether they can adequately manage future patients if they don’t receive a comprehensive education and, on a bigger scale, whether they can safely stay here to practice in a state where their help is desperately needed to combat a dire and growing physician shortage. Surely our leaders, elected in gerrymandered districts, without the concern to actually represent their constituents, hear these stories, too.

It’s starting to feel as if women in Wisconsin are invisible to our elected leaders.

Former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson acknowledged that “women’s health needs should be pursued in their own right.” That’s our charge now: to reclaim the freedom to make our own medical decisions, within the context of our own lives, without political interference. As a woman who never looked back when I chose to be an OB/GYN, I stand with my patients, always.