Wisconsin Lawmakers Continue to Practice Legislative Malpractice

I believe it's important to disclose that I am not a properly trained health care provider. I received an undergraduate degree in political science and have never claimed to be a medical expert. However, I am proud to be a health care advocate and have always grounded my health care advocacy on the evidence-based policies and standards that genuine medical experts recommend based on rigorous research.

Sadly, these days the notions of "evidence" and "science" are far from respected in the legislative process, let alone utilized to set standards for the policies passed by lawmakers. We're watching this tidal wave of disregard for fact and peer-reviewed research roll across our country. Whether we're talking about climate change or reproductive health care -- somehow we've allowed a loud but small segment of our population to scream "water is dry" and report such claims as if there is actually a good-faith argument about whether water is actually wet.

For instance, in Wisconsin we are witnessing an unprecedented disregard and disrespect for medical experts and medical evidence by our elected leaders. I remember sitting in a committee hearing back in 2011 as the new Tea Party majority took over in our state Legislature and watched as dozens of health care experts and leading medical organizations stood in line to oppose an effort to repeal our "Healthy Youth Act." Loudly and clearly, those with the medical education, experience and evidence persuasively argued that it is bad public health policy to deny Wisconsin students from receiving comprehensive, medically accurate, age-appropriate and evidence-based sexuality education.

Groups like the Wisconsin Medical Society, the Wisconsin Public Health Association, the Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians, the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Association of Pediatrics, the and Wisconsin School Nurses Association all cried out urging our legislators to listen to the facts and to oppose any efforts to undermine the Healthy Youth Act. Dozens of these health care experts stood in unison hoping to be heard yet at the end of the day, four special interest groups on the other side of the issue claimed victory. Wisconsin Right-to-Life, Pro-Life Wisconsin, Wisconsin Family Action and the Wisconsin Catholic Conference -- none of which have any credible medical expertise -- were the groups our legislative leaders listened to while they chose to ignore all or the mainstream health care leaders in our state. Today, because those elected in 2010 hitched their wagon to groups that were selling "junk science," many young people in our state are receiving politically-motivated human growth and development information and are being denied the evidence-based information would enable and empower them to make informed, healthy decisions about their lives.

Currently in our state, we're watching the continued impact of the 2010 anti-science takeover in our state further play out at the cost of evidence-based policies and public health standards. In an unprecedented alliance, the Wisconsin Medical Society, the Wisconsin Section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Association of Pediatrics and the Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians have jointly submitted letters to the state Senate and state Assembly urging them to oppose a bill (SB 179) to ban abortions after 20 weeks gestation. Yet once again, these health care leaders along with thousands of practicing physicians in our state are completely being ignored and blatantly disrespected. I've personally witnessed dozens of doctors speak with legislators to explain that yes indeed "water is wet," or that the medical evidence doesn't support the arguments for restricting abortion at 20 weeks, or that the life and health of Wisconsin women will be threatened by bills like Senate Bill 179. Immediately following these meetings and conversations, many of these legislators have stubbornly insisted that no, "water is dry," and your expertise, evidence and education simply means nothing.

Out of 132 legislators in our State Assembly and State Senate -- only two of them have a health care background. As with many state legislatures around the country, many elected representatives come from a background outside of the health care arena, which is perfectly fine. I believe it's healthy to have elected leaders from a wide variety of backgrounds and experience. Some have worked in public education, some have served in our military, some are business leaders -- they all have something to contribute to the critical conversations around policy making. Yet our leaders need to be humble enough to know when they don't know everything and when policy proposals come before them, it's the smart and responsible thing to do to reach out their credible constituents who can help shed light on the consequences of legislation.

If the 130 legislators in our state without a health care background want to continue playing "gynotician" and maintain they know better than the medical experts in our state, it's time for the voters and the health care community to unite and hold our elected leaders accountable for legislative malpractice. It's also time to demand members of the media stop their "fair and balanced" charades and to start drawing clear distinctions between fact and political rhetoric.