Michigan abortion bills take spotlight at packed legislative hearing
- Bills that would remove numerous restrictions on abortion access received their first hearing in Lansing Thursday
- They include eliminating a 24-hour waiting period and allowing state funds to be used for Medicaid abortions
- The current legislation does not include a call to drop the state’s parental consent law for minors seeking abortion
LANSING—A sweeping package of Democratic-sponsored bills to remove numerous restrictions on abortion access in Michigan received its first legislative hearing Thursday in Lansing.
At a packed, sometimes emotional, session, the Michigan House Health Policy Committee heard arguments on whether Michigan should spend public Medicaid dollars on abortions, eliminate a current 24-hour waiting period to have the procedure, and strike down several licensing requirements, part of an 11-bill package known as the “Reproductive Health Act (RHA).”
Doctors lined up on both sides of the issue, some wore white medical coats to the hearing table. The room was packed with people wearing bright pink t-shirts or shirt stickers that read “No RHA.”
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Supporters of the bill package argue the measures remove unnecessary barriers to abortion and realign state laws to reflect the will of voters who last November approved Prop 3, which enshrined abortion and other reproductive rights into the state Constitution.
“Despite claims by abortion opponents, none of (the current restrictions) are necessary. None of these laws are evidence-based. And none of these laws impacts patients,” Dr. Sarah Wallett, chief medical operating officer for Planned Parenthood of Michigan, told the committee. “In fact, these laws endanger my ability to care for my patients every single day.”
Just last month, Wallett said, the current restrictions forced her to show a pregnant woman material on fetal development and prenatal care, even though the fetus had a fatal anomaly.
Under Michigan’s informed consent abortion law, those seeking abortion must sign a document 24 hours ahead of the procedure attesting they have reviewed state-provided material on fetal development, risks of abortion, and what to do if they experience complications. The packet includes a set of illustrations of a healthy fetus as it develops.
“She asked me with tears in her eyes why had I had forced her to look at information that wasn’t relevant to her,” Wallett said.
“I have never once been able to provide care to my patients that’s solely focused on them. Because with every patient, I have to make sure I'm following state laws that cause my patients harm… This isn't okay, and I'm tired of having to pretend like it is,” Wallet said.
Dr. Haley Crissman, representing the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, also argued for the package, saying current restrictions do little to protect patients.
“These laws were enacted under the guise of safety and they imply that abortion is dangerous, and thus requires special scrutiny or regulation,” she said. “However, in reality, abortion care is extremely safe, and none of the laws that RHA (the Reproductive Health Act) repeals have ever been shown to make abortion care safer.”
The 11-bill package would:
- Eliminate a ban on using state funds to cover costs to Medicaid beneficiaries
- Repeal the statewide ban on “partial-birth abortions” (a non-medical term that refers to abortions performed in late-term pregnancies)
- Repeal manslaughter penalties associated with abortions
- End mandatory 24-hour waiting period for patients before abortions
- Repeal some structural requirements for abortion facilities that abortion providers call “trap laws.”
- Reverse a ban on using state funds for abortions
- Allow universities to refer students to abortion providers
Democrats, who now control the Legislature, rolled out the package during a roundtable event last week, the first day they returned to the Capitol from summer break.
Notably, the bill package would not repeal a parental consent requirement in Michigan, even though some abortion rights advocates have long sought to end it. That law bans abortions for minors without written consent of at least one parent or legal guardian.
Opponents said the package is a rush job pushed in “blind fervor” by Planned Parenthood. If passed, opponents say, it could endanger patients with unplanned pregnancies.
Opponents include Michigan Coalition to Protect a Woman’s Right to Know, which includes Right to Life, the Michigan Catholic Conference, and Protect Life Michigan, which represents students who oppose abortion.
The bill package is the latest abortion battle since June 2022, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v Wade, which had established a right to abortion within the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court’s ruling sent the legal question back to the states, triggering a more than year-long scramble across much of the country to establish or overturn state laws, with some states banning or limiting abortion and other states staking out continued access.
Thursday’s hearing also comes five months after Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill that repealed a 1931 state abortion ban, and four months after the Democrat-controlled Legislature passed a law that banned employers from discriminating against workers for having abortions.
Dr. Michelle Monticello, an OB-GYN in central Michigan, testified Thursday against the bill package.
Monticello said Michigan’s informed consent law ensures patients understand how the procedure will be performed, possible complications, and how to address them. It also helps make sure women are not being coerced into having an abortion, she said.
“It is not overly burdensome for a physician or physician's assistant to review this most basic information with a patient prior to their procedure,” she said.
In fact, she noted, the state health department provides an online consent form that a patient can access, review and sign 24 hours before a scheduled procedure.
“This waiting period allows her to consider the risks and ask additional questions if needed before proceeding,” she said.
Such informed consent is essential, she said: “To do less is unethical.”
Eileen McNeil of the Citizens for Traditional Values, a Michigan nonprofit which said it advocates for Judeo-Christian values, said the package essentially breaks a promise by advocates for Prop 3 that its passage would merely restore Michigan abortion access to levels under Roe.
Instead, McNeil told the committee Thursday, the bills will “strip long-standing, common sense regulations for women and children. Among the current licensing regulations, for example, are safety protocols for facilities as well as requirements for the “compassionate, humane” disposal of fetal tissue.
“I urge you not to bait and switch (voters) under the beguiling umbrella of ‘access.’ This Reproductive Health Act recklessly endangers women.”
No votes were taken on the bills Thursday and they remain in committee.
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