Bills wiping traces of 1931 abortion ban move through committees
Three House bills, five Senate bills now slated to receive full chamber votes
Michigan Planned Parenthood Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sarah Wallett at the abortion rights protest in Ann Arbor, May 14, 2022 | Angela Demas
A total of eight bills addressing reproductive rights issues in Michigan advanced through Senate and House committees on Wednesday, teeing majority Democrats up for the significant milestone of being able to wipe away all traces of a restrictive, 92-year-old law that criminalized most abortions.
“There was a constitutional amendment that voters overwhelmingly approved that makes these laws unconstitutional,” state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) said while testifying before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
“They have been unenforceable for 50 years prior to that. This just cleans up the books in a way that the people of Michigan very clearly asked us to do.”
A majority of Michigan voters decided in November to enshrine and expand abortion rights via a constitutional proposal known as Proposal 3. The measure did not, however, erase Michigan’s 1931 “trigger law” that went into effect after Roe v. Wade was toppled by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.
This morning, House Judiciary voted out my, @StateRepSteph, and @feliciabrabec’s bills to repeal the unconstitutional and draconian 1931 criminal abortion ban. Next up: voting it out of the House and then getting it off the books for good. https://t.co/pFTKUFhZi1
— Laurie Pohutsky (@lpohutsky19) March 1, 2023
Though unenforceable for 50 years because of Roe and then on pause for months due to a lawsuit, advocates have been stressing the need to remove remnants of the antiquated law completely.
MCL 750.14, otherwise known as Act 238 of Michigan’s Penal Code, makes almost all abortions a felony punishable by up to four years in prison.
The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday heard from a physician who administers abortions, a representative from the ACLU (American Civil Rights Union), lawmakers, patients and other supporters during testimony in support of House Bills 4006, 4031 and 4032.
A representative from the Michigan Catholic Conference argued in opposition to the bill, and several Republican lawmakers offered up amendments that would have restricted the bills’ reach.
All Republican amendments were defeated.
The three House bills were eventually reported out along party-line votes of 8-5:
- House Bill 4006, sponsored by Pohutsky, would repeal the 1931 law’s penalty for administering with intent to procure miscarriage.
- House Bill 4031, sponsored by state Rep. Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield Twp.), would amend a section of the Corrections Code referencing the crime of administering drugs to procure a miscarriage.
- House Bill 4032, sponsored by state Rep. Stephanie Young (D-Detroit), would do the same in regard to sentencing guidelines in the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Dr. Sarah Wallett, the chief medical operating officer for Planned Parenthood of Michigan, described herself as a “proud abortion provider” while explaining the importance of having access to reproductive health care.
“I should be at a health center caring for my patients today. But instead, I’m here asking you to do what lawmakers should have done decades ago: Repeal Michigan’s 1931 criminal abortion ban,” Wallett said.
“It’s terrifying to know that nearly a century-old ban remains on Michigan’s law books, threatening to label me a felon. I should not have to fear being arrested, separated from my family, stripped of my medical license and barred from practicing medicine, simply for providing the care my patients depend on,” she continued.
“And my patients should not have to fear that they will abruptly lose abortion access and be forced to travel out of state to seek care outside of the legal medical system, or continue a pregnancy against their will.”
The Senate Health Policy Committee also reported out five bills, with party-line votes of 6-4:
- Senate Bill 2, sponsored by state Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor), would repeal a provision of the 1931 law related to publication of cures for conceptive preventatives.
- Senate Bill 37, sponsored by state Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills), would amend sentencing guidelines to remove reference to the crime of administering drugs to procure miscarriage.
- Senate Bill 38, sponsored by state Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), would remove reference in the Corrections Code to the crime of administering drugs to procure miscarriage.
- Senate Bill 39, sponsored by Geiss, would repeal the penalty for administering with intent to procure miscarriage.
- Senate Bill 93, sponsored by state Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing), would repeal a section of the law related to penalties for the sale of drugs or medicine to procure a miscarriage.
Right to Life of Michigan testified against the bills.
“Advocates for life from across our great state extend heartfelt appreciation to those legislators who voted no on these dangerous bills and instead stood for common-sense protections for women and children, protections fully permitted under the Michigan Constitution,” Barb Listing, the group’s president, said in a statement.
All eight bills are now teed up to be voted on by each respective chamber.
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