Michigan Dems Introduce Bills to Protect Reproductive Freedom 

Protesters attend a rally outside the state capitol in Lansing. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

By Kyle Kaminski

September 8, 2023

Michigan lawmakers want to tear down legal barriers to abortion access—including by repealing state laws that mandate waiting periods and limit insurance coverage.

MICHIGAN—Michigan Democrats introduced legislation this week to chip away at several lingering obstacles to reproductive health care that are still buried in Michigan’s state laws, with the goal of expanding access and ensuring all Michiganders can receive the care they deserve. 

The 11-bill package—called the Reproductive Health Act—specifically aims to repeal a number of targeted restrictions on abortion providers in Michigan (otherwise known as TRAP laws) that limit insurance coverage and mandate 24-hour delays before patients can receive abortion care.

The legislation would also roll back state licensing requirements that have limited access to health care across Michigan, as well as enable Affordable Care Act insurance plans to cover abortion care without the purchase of a separate rider, often referred to as “rape insurance.”

House Speaker Pro Tempore Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) introduced the bills on Wednesday and is leading the charge on the bills in the House. State Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) is expected to follow suit with similar legislation in the Senate over the coming weeks.

“If we have a constitutional right to reproductive freedom, but it’s not accessible for everyone, then it’s not actually a right,” Pohutsky said in an interview with The ‘Gander in late July

Here’s the Deal:

Michigan voters turned out in full force last November to support Proposal 3 and cement the right to reproductive freedom—including abortion care—into the state Constitution. The protections provided by Proposal 3 effectively ensure that nobody will ever be prosecuted with a crime for providing or receiving reproductive health care in the state of Michigan. 

The amendment also says that all Michiganders have a specific right to reproductive freedom.

That includes the right to make and carry out any and all pregnancy-related decisions (including abortion) and it bars the state from enacting any laws or regulations that would infringe upon those basic human rights without having a “compelling state interest in the health” of the patient.

Lawmakers took that guarantee a step further in April by repealing a nearly 100-year-old state law that had criminalized abortion care in Michigan, officially aligning state law with the newly amended State Constitution under Proposal 3—which was passed with about 57% of the vote.

In doing so, Michigan has emerged as a nationwide beacon for choice and bodily autonomy.

In the year since the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, abortion has now been completely banned in 15 states. Georgia and South Carolina also ban them at about six weeks of pregnancy, before most women even know they are pregnant, and several other states have 12- and 15-week bans on the books. All told, about half of the states in the US are likely to ban abortion as a result of the Supreme Court decision, reports the New York Times

Michigan is now among 20 states that have enacted protections in the wake of the ruling, but lawmakers said there are still several different state laws that are unnecessarily standing in the way of Michiganders and their right to make their own reproductive health care decisions.

State Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

“The fact of the matter is, folks found a way to chip away at Roe v. Wade, and they’re going to do the same thing with our constitutional right that we have here in Michigan,” Pohutsky said. “We need to be proactive and eliminate some of the roadblocks that have already been put up.”

Mandatory Waiting Periods for Patients

Timeliness is a big factor when it comes to reproductive health care, Pohutsky said. 

State law requires that certain information about abortion care be provided to anyone seeking an abortion at least 24 hours before the procedure. And it prohibits anyone from receiving an abortion until that 24-hour window has passed—regardless of whether or not they’re ready.

Included in this week’s legislation: Removing that mandatory waiting period altogether.

“An extra 24 hours of time for a person to go home and think about what they’re about to do is frankly misogynistic and there are all kinds of gross implications to it,” Pohutsky said. “It’s really onerous and there’s just no real medical benefit to having this extra restriction on the books.”

Officials at Planned Parenthood of Michigan (PPMI) said that rule creates unnecessary delays for patients in need of essential care—especially those who might not have realized there was a 24-hour waiting period, and may have already driven hundreds of miles to receive abortion care.

“That means they’re taking another day off work, traveling again, or getting another hotel room,” said PPMI spokeswoman Ashlea Phenicie. “That’s a really devastating barrier for some folks.”

Republican legislators passed the state law that prescribed the 24-hour waiting period for abortion care in 1993, but legal challenges prevented it from taking place until 1999. Former Republican Gov. John Engler said the measure was about promoting safe healthcare practices.

“Is it really about healthcare? I would argue it’s not. It’s about power,” Paula Thornton Greear, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Michigan, told The ‘Gander. “We need to trust people to make decisions on their healthcare and stop putting shackles on bodily autonomy.”

State Licensing Tweaks

The vast majority of abortions in Michigan (and across the country) are done via medication abortions, which usually consists of a two-dose regimen of pills that can be taken at home. 

Abortions for pregnancies further along than 11 weeks require an in-clinic procedure that usually takes less than 10 minutes. And while both forms of abortion care are protected under Proposal 3, procedural abortion care is still a scarce commodity in Michigan—especially Up North.

For example: Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest provider of reproductive health care services, operates 15 health centers in Michigan. All of them offer medication abortion, but state licensing restrictions have limited procedural abortions to only three of its health centers. 

One is in Ann Arbor; another is in Kalamazoo. The northernmost health center is in Flint.

That means Planned Parenthood patients living in the Upper Peninsula who are in need of a procedural abortion would need to travel seven hours by car to commute to their nearest clinic.

Thornton Greear said that dearth of access is an unacceptable inconvenience for patients.

“What the state legislature needs to do, and what the voters mandated them to do, is to make sure that everyone can actually access the care guaranteed to them under Proposal 3, and ensure this isn’t just a right in name only, ” she told The ‘Gander earlier this summer. 

Pohutsky said state licensing requirements also currently require all clinics that provide abortion care to be licensed as freestanding medical centers. That status prescribes a raft of sometimes unnecessary (and cost prohibitive) state rules that have effectively prevented new clinics from opening their doors in underserved areas—especially in the more rural pockets of the state.

The licensing requirements touch on everything from the width of the building’s doorways and hallways, to a mandate that every clinic also be equipped with a $10,000 surgical scrub sink. 

Pohutksy said those laws were put in place years ago specifically to limit access to abortion, and repealing them should make it much easier for providers to expand.

“The majority of abortions are medication abortions, so in many of these facilities, there is no medical procedure even taking place,” Pohutsky said. “Even where they are, these are requirements necessary for places that are performing surgeries—not providing abortion care.”

Among the specific laws on the list for repeals: One signed in 2012 by former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder that requires clinics to perform at least 120 abortions every year in order to be licensed as a freestanding medical center, which shuttered clinics that had less demand. That law also restricted the use of telemedicine in essential reproductive health care matters.

At the time, Republicans claimed the legislation was designed to help protect the health of pregnant women, but Pohutsky said the restrictions only created “abortion deserts” in Michigan—forcing many women to miss work, and take long trips just to receive care. 

“Right now, we have a legislative majority that is committed to making sure abortion stays safe, legal, and accessible in our state,” Pohutsky said. “We need to seize this moment and make sure we are taking advantage of the majority that we have, and taking care of as much of it as we possibly can at this moment in time, so we’re looking to get the ball rolling in the fall.”

‘Rape Insurance’

Also included in the Reproductive Health Act: Legislation to expand insurance coverage for abortion care and make it easier (and cheaper) for Michiganders to access care.

Currently, Michigan bans health plans under the Affordable Care Act from covering abortions, except if a pregnancy endangers the life of the mother—meaning Michiganders (and employers) must purchase a separate insurance rider to ensure all other abortion care is actually covered.

That restriction has been criticized by opponents as a “rape insurance” law, including by then-state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, who called the legislation “ignorant” and “repulsive” in 2013.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

Pohutsky said that her plans include repealing that requirement—but it won’t necessarily force private insurers to begin including all abortion care as part of their existing coverage. Instead, it would simply allow them to wrap abortion care into their existing health insurance plans. 

Though initially planned, the bills do not seek to change parental consent requirements that require minors to receive permission from their parents (or a judge) to receive abortion care. 

“Our work is not over,” Thornton Greear said in a statement after the bills were introduced this week. “When we repeal these dangerous restrictions still littering Michigan’s law books, patients will have greater access to the care guaranteed to them under the Michigan state constitution.”

READ MORE: Whitmer Vows to Keep Up Fight for Reproductive Freedom in Michigan

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Follow Political Correspondent Kyle Kaminski here.

Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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