“It’s Been a Devastating Several Weeks”: Wisconsin Doctors Cross State Lines to Navigate Post-Roe Abortion Ban

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Within hours of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling, which ended federal protections for critical women’s reproductive rights, abortion providers in Wisconsin began shutting down out of fear of a 173-year-old law banning the practice unless a mother’s life was in jeopardy. While Democratic governor Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul have filed a lawsuit to block the ban in its entirety, and—alongside several county district attorneys—have said they won’t enforce the law, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin is operating as if it is in effect, temporarily stopping abortion services. Most Wisconsinites seeking abortions are left with few options aside from traveling to “haven” states to receive care. As the dust settles post-Roe, the demand in states where abortion is still protected has spiked. Providers and clinics in Illinois are overwhelmed, while those in Wisconsin are scrambling to find ways to help their patients.

In the chaos, Dr. Allie Linton, an ob-gyn specialist based in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, area, and her colleagues have come up with a plan to travel to neighboring Illinois to provide abortion care. With Illinois just about an hour’s drive outside of Milwaukee, Linton saw an opportunity to travel to the neighboring state and not only provide her patients with abortion care, but also help lighten the load for doctors who are underwater, as the state is surrounded by abortion bans post-Dobbs. “I would prefer to provide it in Wisconsin, to my patients that don’t have to travel across state lines for health care,” Linton said. “But I’m so thankful to be able to still utilize my services and to still help these patients receive the care that they deserve.”

As abortion providers across the country contend with a patchwork of laws and restrictions around reproductive rights, Vanity Fair spoke with Linton about the Dobbs impact she experienced firsthand in Wisconsin and her plans to travel to Illinois—through a partnership with Planned Parenthood—to provide abortion care.

This Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Vanity Fair: When the Dobbs ruling came down, even if expected, it was still kind of a shocking moment. What did you see in the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court decision? What was it like for an individual like yourself who has been providing this care?

Dr. Allie Linton: It was a devastating day. It’s been a devastating several weeks. But I think because of the planning we had been doing, we cried and we cried with our patients, and then we went to work, realizing that we had to start putting these plans into action: helping patients to navigate care, seeing how we could help them with transportation and did they need resources for childcare. How do we get them the care that they need? There is no doubt that it was still a shock. I think even if all of us expected this, it’s only human to hope that maybe you were wrong.

I think the other component that was unique for Wisconsin and some of the other states [was that] our ban essentially would go into effect immediately. Where some states have bans that are set to take effect after a matter of days or weeks or whatever, ours was so dependent on the day that the decision came down, which obviously none of us knew. Even with all of this planning in place, the fact that the decision came down at 9:10 a.m. [central time] on the 24th of June was still a complete surprise. So certainly a lot of scrambling, but I think a testament to the efforts that had been put in place even before December, but especially since December, with the oral arguments. There was a lot less chaos than there would’ve been.

What is the status of abortion access in Wisconsin since Roe fell?

We have an 1849 ban on the books that essentially bans all abortion except in the cases of a threat to maternal life. There certainly are questions about whether that law is valid or whether it is constitutional or enforceable, et cetera. But given that it carries a felony charge with a six-year statute of limitations, while we are awaiting guidance from the courts and a clearer sense, we have stopped providing abortions in the state of Wisconsin, with the exception of that very narrow limitation.

We know that this ban is going to disproportionately impact our most vulnerable patients. And as much as some people say, “Oh, well, it’s only an hour to get to Illinois from Milwaukee”—we know that it is much further than that for a lot of areas in Wisconsin. Even that hour can be a barrier that a lot of patients cannot overcome.

Wisconsin is one of those states that’s in limbo a bit. What has the coordination aspect of all of this been like?

We tried immensely to do as much coordination as we could before the Dobbs ruling came out, as well as after—working with academic institutions across the state, trying to bring physicians together, lawyers together, to try to help people understand this law is archaic. It’s written before we had common use of ultrasound, before we had a lot of the common-day diagnoses that we have. So trying to interpret that in a modern context is really difficult and it’s really scary. We’re having discussions. We’re trying to help share each other’s knowledge and share our expertise while also realizing that none of us really know exactly what to do because the law is unclear. It was not written by physicians even back in 1849. We’re sort of awaiting guidance while also ensuring that we’re still providing patients with the care that they deserve to the degree that we are able.

Tell me about this partnership and your plans to travel to Illinois to provide abortion care.

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