More abortion restrictions were introduced in 2021 than ever. Here’s a look back at the debate.

By: - December 29, 2021 5:55 am

If the U.S. Supreme Court sides with the state of Mississippi in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, getting an abortion in Michigan could become a felony. | Robin Bravender

Conversations around access to abortion took centerstage this year after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to  a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks that could result in the court overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

If justices uphold the Mississippi ban in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the decision could trigger laws across the nation imposing similar prohibitions on abortions. 

For the first time ever, states enacted more than 100 abortion restrictions in a single year in 2021. Michigan was no exception to this, with the GOP-controlled Legislature introducing a slew of new legislation to limit access to abortion care in the state. The most restrictive was implemented in Texas.

Abortion care advocates responded by protesting on the Capitol lawn, doctors spoke up about how the new legislation could negatively impact their patients and Democratic state lawmakers introduced bills of their own to counteract the restrictions. 

Here are the Advance’s top stories on abortion care that you might have missed:

Here’s what could happen in Michigan if Roe v. Wade is overturned

If the U.S. Supreme Court sides with the state of Mississippi in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, getting an abortion in Michigan could become a felony. 

Michigan has a pre-Roe law from 1931 still on the books that would make it a felony for doctors to perform abortions in the state if Roe v. Wade is overturned. But pro-choice advocates in and out of the Legislature want to do away with the 90-year-old law, especially since the wording is outdated, and increase protections for abortion care through new legislation. 

“It sort of doesn’t apply today. It refers to miscarriage and abortion interchangeably, and now medical terminology wouldn’t allow that. … It contradicts itself; it uses old language. So most people think it’s going to take some clarification,” said Lori Carpentier, CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan. 

‘It would force me to lie to patients’: Republicans consider so-called abortion pill reversal legislation

In June, state Rep. Sue Allor (R-Wolverine) introduced House Bill 5086, also known as the Women’s Right to Know Act, which would require doctors to provide information on the abortion pill reversal procedure. But Michigan doctors say this bill could have serious medical consequences. 

The abortion pill reversal process involves a large influx of progesterone into the pregnant person’s system after the the first pill in a medical abortion, mifepristone, is taken, but before the second pill, misoprostol.

Hundreds rally at the state Capitol for the MI Body MI Choice event on Oct. 2, 2021 | Allison R. Donahue

But doctors are concerned that they would be legally required to inform patients about a medical procedure that is not “evidence-based.”

“To be really clear, it would force me to lie to patients,” said Sarah Wallett, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood of Michigan. “We wouldn’t accept the idea that physicians not only should lie, but are actually required to by law, in any other type of medicine, and so we shouldn’t think it’s acceptable in abortion care, either.”

What will happen to telemedicine abortion in Michigan if Roe v. Wade is overturned?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many health clinics expanded online options, increasing the availability of telemedicine abortions. In Michigan, this procedure can’t be done completely virtual because of the state requires patients to have an ultrasound before providing the abortion.

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, telemedicine abortions in Michigan may be banned completely. And anti-abortion groups are working to do just that, either through new legislation, which would likely be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, or a citizen-led petition banning telemedicine abortion.

In 2018, the state Legislature passed a bill banning telemedicine abortion, but as one of his last actions as governor, former Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed the legislation. 

Hillsdale proposes abortion ban, ‘spontaneous miscarriages’ would be open to prosecution

Hillsdale, a small city near the Ohio border, proposed an ordinance in August that would ban abortions within the city limits. The ordinance is very similar to Texas’ Senate Bill 8, the most restrictive abortion law in the country. 

The ordinance would criminalize any person from performing abortions at any stage of pregnancy in the city or anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion that occurs within city limits, such as providing transportation, instructions or money for an abortion. It would also allow private citizens to file civil lawsuits against anyone who they believe violated, or intended to violate, the ordinance.

Even though the closest abortion clinic is 25 miles outside of Hillsdale, the ordinance would prevent Hillsdale residents from traveling outside of the city to get an abortion.

‘An alarming time for women in our country’: Hundreds rally in Lansing for reproductive rights

Before the U.S. Supreme Court began its new term in early October, hundreds of rallies were hosted nationwide, including in Lansing, protesting the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and restrictive abortion laws, like Texas’ SB 8. 

“This really is an alarming time for women in our country, given the Republican majority now in the U.S. Supreme Court,” said U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing), who is a sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act. “It is very scary and the stakes could not be higher. And that’s why we’re here, because we understand how high the stakes are.” 


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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8.