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Friday, December 26, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 42.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Wisconsin public defender refers a minor seeking court-approved abortion to Care Net, a crisis pregnancy center
Required counseling?
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From the get-go, Tia was certain she wanted an abortion. She had her reasons.

Just 17, she says she could have gotten pregnant by one of two boys. She had also recently done drugs, including coke.

"It made me nervous about how the baby would be affected and stuff," says Tia, who lives in Madison but asked that her real name not be used and that other identifying details be withheld. "I also have a fear of caring for another human being. Babies are wonderful, but I'm nervous because I'm growing up still. I'm not emotionally or mentally ready."

Tia says she also has plans she would like to pursue before becoming a parent. "I want to go to college and I want to succeed in life."

Tia suspected early on that she was pregnant, and her grandmother, who is her legal guardian, urged her to get a pregnancy test. The mom of the boy Tia was dating accompanied her to her doctor's appointment. The test confirmed she was pregnant.

Tia says all the adults in her family supported her decision to seek an abortion. At the urging of her high school social worker, she also talked about her options with the school nurse. She told the nurse she wanted an abortion, and the nurse put in a call to the state public defender's office to begin the process of obtaining a judicial bypass.

Under Wisconsin's parental consent law, minors need a waiver from the court if they are not accompanied to the abortion clinic by a parent, legal guardian or custodian, or relative over the age of 25. Tia's grandmother uses a wheelchair and does not often leave the house.

A couple of days later Tia received a call from Nancy Vue, the public defender assigned to her case. Tia told Vue she wanted an abortion. Vue told Tia she first needed to get counseling. In a subsequent call Vue referred Tia to Care Net Pregnancy Center of Dane County. Tia wrote the center's phone number down on her hand.

Tia's social worker was taken aback when she learned of the referral to Care Net, a faith-based crisis pregnancy center that opposes abortion.

"I was alarmed at the idea that she was being sent to an anti-choice agency," says the social worker, who also requested anonymity to protect the student's identity.

The social worker says she asked Tia whether she was familiar with the agency. Tia was not. When Tia later asked Vue if she knew Care Net was an anti-abortion group, Vue said she did, but said it offers resources and options to minors.

Tia says that made her angry. "I explained to her that I have my options and I'm ready to see the judge. I've talked to many people about this. I've had my counseling done."

Vue did not return calls for comment. But Dee Dee Watson, the regional attorney manager for the Office of State Public Defender, says that state statute requires minors to be counseled on the risks and consequences of abortion and the risks and consequences of carrying the pregnancy to term before obtaining a judicial waiver.

She says Planned Parenthood used to provide that counseling but stopped about six months ago.

That is not true, says Nicole Safar, public policy director for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, the only abortion provider in the Madison area.

Safar says the group's family planning clinic provides "all-options counseling" to anyone who has a positive pregnancy test. That includes information on the risks and consequences of both pregnancy and abortion.

The risks and consequences of all options are also provided at the first of two separate appointments required for obtaining an abortion in Wisconsin, Safar adds.

Safar says she is surprised to hear of Tia's experience with Vue.

"We have had really positive working relationships with the public defenders office," she says.

"I think it's an unusual case," Safar adds. But she says it is troubling that the office would refer a minor to an organization that "doesn't provide the full spectrum of information."

"It seems to me there is a misunderstanding here," says Safar.

Wisconsin has had its parental consent law in place since 1991. In the overwhelming number of cases, minors get permission from a parent or guardian to obtain an abortion.

In 2011, according to annual statistics compiled by the state Department of Health Services, 321 women under the age of 18 had an abortion. Of these, just 12 obtained a judicial waiver.

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