by Angi Becker Stevens/RH Reality Check
Several conservative states—such as Oklahoma and Texas—have repeatedly drawn attention for the proliferation of anti-choice laws proposed and passed by their legislatures in the past year. But as the GOP’s war on women continues to grow nationwide, legislatures even in states not traditionally considered to be extremely conservative are taking steps to severely restrict reproductive freedom.
Michigan has already received a failing grade on its choice-related laws from NARAL, and yet the current dismal state of access to abortion in Michigan is nothing compared to what could soon become in reality. This legislative season, the legislature has already passed a redundant ban on non-existent (and already federally "banned") “partial birth abortions." But over a dozen more pieces of proposed extreme anti-choice legislation are currently at various stages of being passed into law. From personhood to ultrasounds, fetal pain bills to provider regulations, the proposed legislation in Michigan seems to represent every variety of anti-choice tactic we’ve witnessed in state legislatures across the country in recent months.
A comprehensive picture of the threat to reproductive rights in Michigan yields an unfortunately lengthy list of currently-proposed laws and regulations and a striking view of how very dire is the situation for reproductive health and rights in the state.
Fetal Personhood: We’ve seen the push for “personhood”-–the conferring of the full rights of a living human being on a fertilized egg--—in several states recently, often in the form of a proposed constitutional amendment. The personhood bill in Michigan would alter all state legal code to include “fetus” as part of the definition of “an individual.” Personhood laws have serious implications for the legality of abortion, since altering the definition of “an individual” to include “a fetus” would render all abortions after the 11th week of pregnancy (when the fetal stage begins) potentially prosecutable as murder . This bill has been referred to the committee on judiciary, but has not gone further since its introduction early last year.
Stricter regulations for the disposal of fetal remains: This bill falls into a category of anti-choice legislation that appears fairly innocuous, but is frequently used to impose excessively burdensome regulations on abortion providers, increasing the chances that clinics will be fined or shut down completely. Sometimes known by the acronym “TRAP” (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers), such regulations have become a common anti-choice tactic. This bill would mandate that all fetal remains be disposed of according to the same regulations governing the disposal of dead bodies: they must be buried, cremated, or interred. There is also concern that the bill could have implications for women experiencing miscarriages, as it does not specify that only medical staff would be responsible for the proper disposal of fetal remains. This bill has successfully passed through the senate with recommendation for immediate effect; the accompanying sentencing guidelines have been referred to the committee on judiciary.
Strengthening of parental notification laws: Michigan already counts itself among the states where abortion is illegal for minors without parental consent, unless a young woman successfully petitions the court to grant a waiver of the consent requirement. The bill currently up for consideration in the state senate would remove the right of young women to seek a waiver through a different division of family court in cases where one division has previously denied granting a waiver, thereby further restricting the one course of action available to young women in a desperate situation. This bill has passed favorably out of committee without amendment, and has been recommended for immediate effect. It awaits a decision from the senate committee of the whole.
Ultrasound requirement: Michigan’s proposed ultrasound bill would require all abortion-seeking women to undergo an ultrasound a minimum of two hours prior to beginning an abortion procedure. The law, if passed, would mandate that a woman receive an ultrasound on the most technologically-advanced equipment available, in order to give the clearest image. In very early pregnancy, this would likely mean a trans-vaginal ultrasound. In later stages, it could often mean the far more detailed 3D ultrasounds that have become more widely available in recent years. Though the bill claims that a woman must be given the option to view the image, it also requires that the monitor be turned in her direction, so that the only way to exercise her “option” to not view the image is to turn her head or close her eyes. This bill has not progressed since its introduction in March of last year.
Regulations on the prescription of medical abortion: This bill would prohibit the prescription of medical abortion without a physical examination. Particularly for women in rural areas—of which there are plenty in the state of Michigan—this regulation could severely affect the ability to obtain an abortion. There is no medical indication for banning the practice of tele-medicine for abortion; on the contrary,research has found telemedicine for the prescription of medical abortion to be safe and effective. This bill was introduced in June, and has been referred to the committee on health policy.
Requirement for abortions post-19 weeks to take place in facilities with neonatal units: This bill aims to further the reach of Michigan’s “Born Alive Infant Protection Act” (passed into law in 2002) by requiring all abortions post-19 weeks to take be carried out in facilities with neonatal units in order to potentially save the life of an infant born after an abortion procedure. This regulation would greatly limit the availability of late abortion—which virtually always occurs for reasons of serious medical necessity. Often, women seeking abortion at this stage in pregnancy are doing so after the discovery of severe birth defects; for women in this difficult situation, limiting the availability of late-term abortion only serves to make an already painful experience even more challenging. This bill was introduced in June, and has not yet progressed.
Insurance restrictions: Several bills have been introduced for the purpose of prohibiting state-provided health insurance from covering abortion procedures, thereby denying any possible abortion coverage for state public employees. The bills state that abortion coverage may be provided if purchased separately as an additional rider. Beyond the obvious problem of passing that out-of-pocket expense on to (often underpaid) woman workers, the reality is that no such “abortion riders” even currently exist. This package of bills passed favorably out of the committee on health policy in December, and has been recommended for immediate effect.
Liability insurance for abortion providers: This bill would strengthen the requirements for liability insurance for abortion providers, making it more difficult and costly for physicians to continue providing abortions to their patients. This bill was introduced in December and has been referred to the committee on insurance.
Prohibition of coercive abortion: This bill would make it a crime to coerce a woman to have an abortion against her will, and could target—among others—any spouse, partner (or parent of a minor) who encouraged a woman to seek an abortion (though it is perfectly legal to coerce a woman not to have an abortion). In the time since I last wrote about the anti-coercion bill, additional accompanying bills have been introduced. One creates a requirement for the state to produce and distribute literature explaining coercion to all abortion-seeking women. Another would require all women to go through an “oral-screening” before obtaining an abortion in order to identify the presence of possible coercion. If it was determined that there was reason to suspect coercion, the woman would be forced to go through an additional 24-hour waiting period prior to obtaining an abortion. Much like the claims that ultrasound regulations are about protecting “informed consent,” the anti-coercion bill is hypocritically touted as attempting to “protect” women. This notion of “protection” is rendered even more patronizing by the further screening requirement that would deny a woman the right to even decide for herself whether she had been coerced. Before the recent House vote on this package of bills, some legislators highlighted the hypocrisy by proposing amendments that would also make it illegal to coerce a woman into continuing a pregnancy. The amendments were rejected; the bills passed easily in the House on Tuesday by a vote of 72-37.
Removal of state funding for abortion-providing facilities: In a move reminiscent of last-year’s threatened federal de-funding of Planned Parenthood, this recently introduced bill would deny all state funds and contracts to any facility or organization that provides abortion. It is difficult to imagine that many large-scale medical facilities could afford to sacrifice their eligibility for any and all state money. Smaller women’s health clinics that are determined to continue providing abortion services would be dramatically affected by the loss of all state grant eligibility, and it is not at all unreasonable to fear that many would be forced to close. This bill alone has the potential to greatly decrease the availability of safe and legal abortion in the state of Michigan. This bill was introduced in January, and has not yet progressed through the system.
“Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act:” Similar to other “fetal pain bills” which have been proposed and passed recently in other states, this bill would outlaw all abortion after 20 weeks. The only exception in the bill is for cases in which death—but not severe non-fatal health consequences—would likely result if the pregnancy were to continue. The bill even goes so far as to callously specify that a woman’s threatened suicide does not qualify as a risk to her life, and leaves no room even for mental health professionals to make a call as to whether a pregnant woman is in fact in danger of suicide. This bill was only recently introduced, and has not yet moved forward.
As problematic as any one of these bills is on its own, it is even more frightening to consider the many intersections between them. For example, imagine that both the laws denying state funding to abortion providers and the requirement that all abortions after 19 weeks occur in facilities with neonatal units were enacted. All medical facilities large enough to maintain neonatal units would likely be too dependent on state funding to continue providing abortions, and so any abortions required after 19 weeks would become extremely difficult to obtain, forcing women to leave the state (and incur additional travel expenses) or resort to attempts at self-inducing abortion. If the ban on post-20-week abortions becomes law at the same time as other restrictions—such as the ban on long-distance prescription of medical abortion—an increasing number of women are likely to find themselves unable to jump through the necessary hoops to obtain an abortion before it’s too late. Or, consider the clear hypocrisy of a state passing a law to “protect” a woman from coercion while simultaneously passing a law forcing her to undergo invasive ultrasound procedures in an attempt to dissuade her from going through with an abortion.
To make matters even grimmer, Michigan’s governor and legislature are strongly anti-choice; so the unfortunate reality is that any and all of these bills have a strong chance of passing. If there is any hope of saving some semblance of reproductive freedom in Michigan, it is urgent for the people of the state to send a strong and clear message to the politicians that this kind of anti-woman legislation will simply not be tolerated.
The full text of these—and other—bills can be viewed at http://www.legislature.mi.gov