healthcare, War on Women — March 28, 2016 at 11:40 am

Michigan legislators use women’s health as a bargaining chip ahead of primary deadline


House vote on ‘abortion coercion’ bills held to appease Right to Life.

Supporters of choice have been wondering when the other shoe was going to drop on the deceptive anti-choice “abortion coercion” bills that passed out of the House Judiciary Committee in September 2015.

That shoe hit the House floor on March 24, with a vote almost entirely along party lines in support of House Bills 4787 and 4830. These bills claim to be an effort to protect women against being coerced into having an abortion — something that is already illegal in Michigan. In reality, these bills are part of a decades-long public and political anti-choice campaign to market the false theory that abortion is harmful to women.

So why hold the vote now? Some thought it might be a symbolic vote in response to Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan’s Lobby Day, which was the day before the vote. On that day, a large group of constituents met with their legislators — or tried to, in some cases — to advocate for choice and women’s healthcare access.

Backlash against Lobby Day may have had something to do with the vote timing, but the real reason is this: The Legislature was coerced into voting by Right to Life.

Republicans in the Michigan Legislature wanted to appease Right to Life of Michigan before the filing deadline for the primary election. Right to Life wanted to score something, and this was it, sources confirm.

It’s not as if this legislation is new, and it’s no secret that it’s backed by Right to Life, says Merissa Kovach, field organizer at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan and co-director of the MI Lead women’s coalition:

Right to Life has been trying to pass this bill for eight years and they failed every time because it’s so stupid.

Although it’s uncertain if the bills will move forward, if they do they’ll head to a Senate committee. According to Kovach, when such bills have been in the Senate before, they’ve been reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, where they have passed.

Part of the reason the future of the bills is uncertain is that some Michigan Republicans aren’t happy about being to forced to vote on this bill ahead of the primary filing deadline. Anti-choice Democrats weren’t keen on it, either. So if there’s any consolation, it’s that Right to Life may have angered some of the Michigan Republicans they need to push forward their extreme agenda.

As I wrote last fall, supporters of coercive abortion laws, like the Right to Life-backed HB 4787 and 4830, 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.

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.

Even more troubling, 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. Democrats offered amendments to the bill that would include other forms of reproduction coercion, but they were voted down by Republicans.

Amanda West, director of Government Relations for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, had this to say about the bills:

Of course we believe that a woman should never be coerced into having an abortion or any medical procedure, for that matter. That’s why we always screen patients for signs of coercion — either to terminate or to continue a pregnancy against her will. However, it appears that extreme members of the legislature find some forms of reproductive coercion to be perfectly acceptable.

Before passing the House, the bills were amended slightly to clarify some of the vague language that made these bills particularly dangerous to women’s health. But if these bills are passed into law, they will continue to add layers of bureaucracy to women’s legal right to abortion — putting government in the middle of decisions that should be made by a women and her doctor, and no one else.

Republicans say they’re against government getting in the way of the doctor-patient relationship. That is, we now know, unless legislators are being forced to act by an extremist group like Right to Life. That’s the very definition of coercion.

[Image credit: Lobby Day photo courtesy of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan.]