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Dr. Kristin Lyerly has been providing abortion care outside of Wisconsin since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022. (Photo credit: Kristin for Wisconsin)

Before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022, Dr. Kristin Lyerly, an obstetrician-gynecologist, practiced at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. These days, she drives to Minnesota to work at local clinics in rural areas of the state. 

On Sept. 28, Dan Miller, the state director of the anti-abortion group Pro-Life Wisconsin, filed a complaint with the state Department of Safety and Professional Services against Lyerly and Dr. Kathy King, the medical director of Planned Parenthood Wisconsin.  

“I had a complaint against my license and I’m not even working here,” Lyerly, a former Democratic candidate for the Wisconsin State Assembly, told the Wisconsin Independent. “I was in Washington, D.C., over the weekend, with all the OB-GYN folks who are the state leads in advocacy. And my friend from Missouri, who has been very visible in the news, she said she’s had over 100 complaints filed against her license.”

Miller told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he filed the complaint after Planned Parenthood resumed abortion care at clinics in Madison and Milwaukee in September. 

“We just felt we had no other course of action other than to go after the doctors that are actually doing it. … 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),” Miller said. 

In the days following the fall of Roe, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, a Democrat, filed a lawsuit challenging a statute dating back to 1849 that made it a felony to perform abortion care. 

Sheboygan County District Attorney Joel Urmanski filed a motion to dismiss Kaul’s suit. In response, Kaul filed a suit opposing the district attorney’s motion. Lyerly was a plaintiff in Kaul’s suit to dismiss Urmanski’s motion.

Dane County Circuit Judge Diane Schlipper denied Urmanski’s motion in July, ruling that Kaul’s original lawsuit could proceed and moving the case closer to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The ruling gave Planned Parenthood Wisconsin the assurance that it could resume abortion care in the state. Urmanski has made it clear that he will prosecute abortion providers in Sheboygan.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers told the Wisconsin Independent that Lyerly has been an advocate for women’s rights her entire life. As for the complaint filed against her, Evers said: “I think she’ll be in a good place. I am convinced of that, and I’m also convinced that she’s not going to worry about all those complaints.”

Lyerly noted that people who live in rural areas outside of Milwaukee and Madison still can’t get the quality reproductive health care they need.

“They need that full-scope, compassionate care from their own doctor, not to be sent across state lines with some money and a driver. It’s not like changing your oil. This is health care. This affects us for the rest of our lives,” Lyerly said. 

The lawsuit over Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion law will likely be heard by the state Supreme Court. 

“I have a vision. This might sound crazy, but my patient comes to me, and she tells me her story, whatever it is, and I say, here are your options. And she says, ‘This is what I would like to do.’ And I say, ‘I can do that for you.’ And I provide her with the care that she needs,” Lyerly said.

For now, though, she said, she’ll continue to provide health care outside of Wisconsin.

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