These bills aren’t about protecting women from reproductive control. They are about satisfying anti-abortion activists.
As early as this week, the Michigan Legislature could vote on a pair of bills that would criminalize the act of forcing a woman to have an abortion. Although we can all agree abortion coercion is a bad thing, it’s not the problem Right to Life and its supporters in the Michigan GOP would have you believe.
But the vague language of the bills could create new problems, like making it more difficult for women to have an honest conversation about their reproductive options with their doctors. What’s more, the bills do absolutely nothing to protect women against the more common problem of being forced to get pregnant and carry a child to term.
Supporters of coercive abortion laws, like these Right to Life-backed bills, are actually trying to limit women’s access to abortion based on the concept that any woman who seeks an abortion does so because she is confused, misled or coerced — something studies consistently find to be untrue.
After the House Judiciary Committee voted to advance the bills in late September, Shelli Weisberg, Legislative Director of the ACLU of Michigan, told MLive: “It continues what we call a war on women — treating women as second class citizens, as though they cannot make decisions on their own.”
She later told me:
These bills are disingenuous. In reality, these bills are a shameful attempt to score political points from special interest groups while interfering with a woman’s ability to make decisions about her healthcare.
It’s already illegal to coerce a woman into having an abortion. Michigan’s existing informed consent law mandates that a woman’s consent to an abortion must be “given freely and without coercion.” Plus, Michigan has other statutes on the books that would make such coercion illegal.
So the bills aren’t necessary. And they might lead to some troubling unintended consequences. They could make doctors hesitant to have a conversation with patients about abortion as one of their reproductive health options. If a doctor advises a woman that an abortion might be her safest option given a health risk she may have — or simply offers abortion as one of the choices she might make — could he or she be found guilty of criminal action under the broadly written language of these bills? What about parents whose teenage daughter gets pregnant? Could they be prosecuted for suggesting she have an abortion?
If those scenarios sound like a stretch, stop and consider the extreme lengths abortion opponents have proven they will go to in their quest to outlaw abortion.
What’s more, these coercive abortion bills do not address the very real reproductive coercion some female victims of domestic abuse face. Coercive abortion is a very small aspect of the much larger problem of violence against women and the impact it has on their health. Focusing solely on coercive abortion, like HBs 4787 and 4830 do, takes away from the serious problem of domestic violence and reproductive coercion. If the Michigan Legislature genuinely wants to help victims of abuse, they should focus on policies that address the broader issues of domestic violence and reproductive control.
That was the argument put forth in the House Judiciary Committee hearing, when Democrats urged for amendments that would have also made it a crime to force a woman not to have an abortion and to carry a pregnancy to term against her will. Those amendments were voted down by Republicans, who insisted that should be a separate piece of legislation — proving that protecting women from reproductive coercion isn’t really the point of HBs 4787 and 4830.
If the legislators truly care about helping victims of abuse then they would support a policy that addresses all forms of reproductive coercion instead of picking and choosing who is a worthy victim deserving of protection. The Michigan Legislature should focus on policies that seek to reduce all forms of domestic violence and coercion, including more common forms of abuse such as coercing a woman to become pregnant, carry a pregnancy, and birth control sabotage.
Anyone doubting the serious issue of violence against women and forced pregnancy should look at the research of Dr. Elizabeth Miller, a medical doctor and professor at the University of Pittsburgh, who co-authored a 2010 study of men recruited from three community health centers in the Boston-area neighborhoods. About 32 percent of participants reported having perpetrated physical or sexual violence against a female partner, 33 percent reported having been involved in a pregnancy that ended in abortion, eight percent reported having at one point sought to prevent a female partner from seeking abortion, and four percent reported having at one point “sought to compel” a female partner to seek an abortion.
Based on this data, a woman is twice as likely to be forced to carry a pregnancy to term than she is to be forced to have an abortion. There are other studies that underscore the very real problem of reproductive coercion as a form of violence against women.
But Michigan Republicans are not concerned about violence against women. They are only concerned with preventing abortion — in fact, what they really care about is ending women’s access to a safe, legal abortion altogether.
“No woman should ever be coerced into any actions concerning her reproductive decisions,” Weisberg says, “but this legislation is disingenuous and politicizes a very real issue of violence against women and the impact it has on their health.”
TAKE ACTION NOW to tell your Representative to vote NO on HBs 4787 and 4830. The ACLU of Michigan has created a tool that lets you send a message to your Representative in less than one minute.
Do it now, and tell the Michigan Legislature to stay out of decisions that should be between a woman and her doctor.
[Image credit: Steven Depolo via Flickr.]