Two University of Louisville medical professors have suspended their work at the EMW Women’s Surgical Center, Kentucky’s only full-time abortion clinic, after questions were raised by lawmakers who oppose abortion.
The action follows a legislative hearing last month when lawmakers questioned Dr. Toni Ganzel, dean of the medical school, about the arrangement put in place to help train resident doctors in abortion procedures.
“If college funds are used for abortion,” said Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, “taxpayers should know about it, and the legislature should take that into account when we talk about funding college and other things.”
On Monday, U of L spokesman John Karman said in a brief statement that the university has “halted our residency training affiliation with EMW until we can determine the future of the relationship.”
He did not provide further details, except that U of L is “exploring various options” to ensure it meets the medical training requirements for residents to maintain academic accreditation for its OB/GYN program.
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Ganzel said U of L does not pay medical school doctors to perform abortions, testifying July 7 at a House-Senate Judiciary Committee meeting.
Rather, U of L has an agreement with EMW as a training site for OB/GYN residents, and in turn, EMW provides “salary support” to the university for the doctors who train them, he said.
Ganzel told lawmakers that if the U of L can’t provide training, the program could lose its accreditation.
Jessica Loving, a former U of L board president and abortion-rights supporter, said she is concerned by the appearance that anti-abortion lawmakers are using state funds to pressure U of L.
“I think it’s highly inappropriate for lawmakers to try to hold an academic institution hostage, particularly when it comes to health care,” he said.
Nemes said at the hearing that he just wants clarification about U of L’s role, focusing on U of L physician Dr. Ashlee Bergin, who testified at a recent court hearing about her work at EMW.
“Does U of L pay you to perform abortions?” she asked her.
“U of L doesn’t pay you to do abortions,” Ganzel replied.
U of L’s decision leaves EMW with only one physician, Dr. Ernest Marshall, founder and co-owner of the clinic.
But for now, the clinic is not offering any abortions following an order from the state appeals court on Monday that indefinitely suspended nearly all abortions in Kentucky.
EMW declined to comment, a spokesman said.
The order comes amid an ongoing legal battle in state court over the constitutionality of two state laws that would ban abortions except to save life or prevent disabling injury to a patient.
Lawyers for EMW and Planned Parenthood are appealing the order in hopes of resuming abortion services while their legal challenge is pending.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican who opposes abortion, is seeking to enforce laws that ban nearly all abortions except to save life or prevent disabling injury to the patient.
Other lawmakers are also demanding answers about the role of U of L doctors at EMW.
“I think we need to get to the bottom of that,” Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said at the hearing. “We don’t have consistent answers and that needs to be reconciled.”
Nemes asked if the doctors’ work at EMW amounted to taxpayer-funded abortions.
Lawmakers abruptly summoned Ganzel, the medical dean, to appear the day after Jefferson Circuit Judge Mitch Perry held a day-long hearing on the abortion providers’ lawsuit, arguing that the constitution State allows abortion.
Nemes, who opposes abortion, attended the July 6 court hearing and said he was concerned about testimony suggesting U of L doctors may be performing abortions as public employees.
“We need the facts here,” he told Ganzel.
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At the court hearing, Bergin, an assistant professor of medicine at U of L, testified about abortion procedures as part of training for OB/GYN students and her work with EMW.
She is one of two U of L doctors who perform abortions at EMW. The other is Dr. Tanya Franklin.
Bergin, questioned by attorney Victor Maddox, Cameron’s deputy attorney general, said she is not an employee of EMW and spends two to three days a week at the clinic providing abortions and other services such as contraception.
He said he accepted his position at U of L in 2015 with the understanding that he was to train medical students in the abortion procedures that would be performed at EMW. U of L Hospital, as a public entity, is not permitted to perform elective abortions under state law.
Some of her abortion work is with students, but not all of it, Bergin said.
While Bergin said she’s not an EMW employee, she clarified that comment to explain that EMW pays her separately when she sees patients in the clinic or takes calls at night and on weekends for services that aren’t part of training. residents.
State Sen. Karen Berg, a Democrat from Louisville, a physician and member of the judicial panel, said at the hearing that there is nothing unusual about university doctors working in private practice.
Residency training programs are also a vital part of medical education, he said.
“I teach residents every day,” he said. “If there isn’t a resident in the room, it’s still my job to do the job.”
But Nemes said he wants to know if any of Bergin’s time as a U of L employee is used to perform abortions that don’t involve training residents.
“We’re not talking about the training program,” he said. “I think the overwhelming number of taxpayers in Kentucky don’t want their institutions and their government, which is what the University of Louisville is, to perform abortions.”
Ganzel told lawmakers that U of L’s deal with EMW dates back to March 2016.
“There are no university funds spent on abortion,” he said. “We comply and continue to comply with all applicable Commonwealth and federal laws.”
It’s not the first time U of L’s deal with EMW has come under scrutiny.
In 2020, the conservative Family Foundation of Kentucky held a press conference in Frankfort to demand an investigation into whether U of L was misusing public money for abortion services at the clinic.
At the time, former U of L president Neeli Bendapudi strongly rejected such allegations.
She said all resident training was conducted in compliance with state and federal laws to provide “the highest education, the best training and the best medical care.”