Republicans pass abortion ban on Right to Life lobby day

By: - May 14, 2019 11:32 am

Planned Parenthood summit, April 16, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

Updated, 4:40 p.m., with House votes and additional reporting

Senate and House Republicans on Tuesday passed bills banning an abortion procedure after declining to pursue similar legislation last term when GOP Gov. Rick Snyder was at the helm — even though the party enjoyed a larger majority in both chambers.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaking at the Planned Parenthood summit in Lansing | Susan J. Demas

But with Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer now in office and promising a veto, Republicans seem eager to pick a fight and send a thank-you note to Right to Life of Michigan. As the Advance first reported, the bills were likely to be taken up as the group, which has long been a powerhouse in GOP politics, held its lobbying day at the Capitol Tuesday.

“We understand how the vote’s going to go down,” state Sen. Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing) said before the bills went on the board. “We understand why it’s being done today — it’s [Right to Life of Michigan] lobby day at the Capitol.”

The Senate passed on party-line 22-16 votes Senate Bill 229, sponsored by state Sen. Tom Barrett (R-Potterville), and SB 230, sponsored by Sen. Kim LaSata (R-Bainbridge Twp.).

“Women deserve access to comprehensive reproductive health care services,” Whitmer said in a statement. “I will veto legislation that does not protect a woman’s constitutional right to make her own decisions about if and when to become a parent. Deeply personal medical decisions are best left between a woman and her doctor.”

Whitmer reiterated that she will veto the bills when speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon after an Infrastructure Week event at the Lansing Brewing Co.

The House followed suit Tuesday afternoon, passing on a party-line 58-51 vote HB 4320, sponsored by state Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield Twp.), and HB 4321, sponsored by Rep. Lynn Afendoulis (R-Grand Rapids). 

Tom Barrett

The bills are part of a national Republican trend of aggressively pushing abortion restrictions in hopes of ultimately overturning Roe v. Wade.

The legislation would ban the medical procedure of dilation and evacuation. However, Republicans and anti-abortion advocates have instead used the highly charged political term “dismemberment abortion.”

Barrett said he was sad that the bills are “even necessary,” but declared, “We are taking a stand for life.”

The Michigan State Medical Society (MSMS), which represents more than 15,000 Michigan physicians, is among the groups opposed to the Senate legislation. The Michigan Advance last week obtained a copy of the May 1 letter from MSMS President Dr. Betty Chu.

In her letter, Chu noted that the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says dilation and evacuation is the “predominant approach to abortion after 13 weeks,” and it is “evidence-based and medically preferred because it results in the fewest complications for women compared to alternative procedures.”

According to a nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency analysis, the legislation makes performing the procedure a felony punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment or a maximum fine of $50,000, or both.

Winnie Brinks

Chu expressed concern about the criminal penalties, the section regarding the exception for a mother’s life, and the “concerning precedent the legislation sets with respect to interference into the sanctity and confidentiality of the physician patient relationship.”

Sen. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) noted in a statement on the Senate floor that the procedure is used when there are “rare, severe fetal abnormalities and serious risks to women’s health.”

“Not only is this legislation dangerous to the health and well-being of women,” Brinks said, “it also infringes upon the rights of patients and their families to make difficult, compassionate decisions to spare unbearable suffering.”

She added the bills will result in “more suffering and more death.” Brinks then shared some “stories of people who have lived the experience you seek to criminalize.”

State Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) shared the story of an Oakland County couple who had difficulty even obtaining a D&E abortion after getting a devastating diagnosis about their fetus and deciding they “would be bringing someone into the world who would do nothing but suffer.”

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

State Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) said those examples actually showed the need for the bills because many parents ascribed “personhood” to their lost fetuses. He said that “no matter the severity of the diagnosis or the suffering” involved he believes the examples opponents raised actually show people will do anything to save their family members, despite the fact that parents chose the abortion procedure the bills would ban.

These abortion restrictions have been introduced before. Now-Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox touted sponsoring legislation as a state representative in 2015 and 2017 while running this year for her new job.

However, Republicans, who previously had the benefit of bigger caucuses, chose not to even move bills out of committee last term.

Many Republicans believe a veto from a Democratic governor will motivate their base for the 2020 election, especially as President Donald Trump’s numbers continue to flag in Michigan.

There’s been talk about mounting a citizen-initiated ballot drive if Whitmer vetoes. Right to Life of Michigan confirmed that strategy on Tuesday afternoon.

Michigan House | Susan J. Demas

According to a nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency analysis, the House bills also are backed by the Michigan Catholic Conference and opposed by Planned Parenthood of Michigan, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan.

“When people were asked who they wanted making decisions about when a pregnant person could get an abortion, they said doctors. They said women. They said women and their doctors. Only 6 percent said they wanted state lawmakers to make those decisions — and yet here we are, with state lawmakers codifying their personal beliefs into law and criminalizing doctors for doing exactly what the vast majority of Michiganders want them to do: their jobs,” said Lori Carpentier, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan.

“These are complex, complicated decisions and should be made by the people with the best information and most expertise — the women themselves in consultation with their physicians. Politicians are not doctors. We are grateful to the lawmakers who listened to doctors and women today, and trusted them.”

The Michigan legislation is part of a national strategy of state-level anti-abortion measures, such as a new six-week ban enacted in Georgia. That law would allow prosecutors to file criminal charges against women who get abortions and target women who miscarry, Slate reports.

Under Ohio’s six-week ban, an 11-year-old rape victim can no longer get an abortion, as CBS News reported.

In Alabama, an outright abortion ban has been introduced and may be voted on this week. Those who perform the procedure would be subject to a Class A felony, punishable by up to 99 years in prison, Reuters reports. A Senate panel added an amendment for exceptions for rape and incest, but Reuters reports that debate resume without that measure.

Laws are being challenged in the courts, but anti-abortion advocates are hopeful that the most conservative U.S. Supreme Court in modern history will outlaw most abortion procedures or even completely overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 23-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on C-SPAN, MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQ people, the state budget, the economy and more. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 100 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive.