Michigan Dems pass bills to expand women’s access to reproductive care

House Speaker Pro Tempore Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) plans to pass the Reproductive Health Act into state law as soon as possible. (Michigan Democrats via Facebook)

By Kyle Kaminski

October 20, 2023

Michigan lawmakers want to tear down longstanding legal barriers to abortion access by repealing old state laws that impose waiting periods and limit access to care.

MICHIGAN—Legislation passed by the state Senate this week would erase several legal obstacles to accessing reproductive health care in Michigan, with state lawmakers labeling the old laws as “unnecessary red tape” that prevent women from receiving the care they deserve.

The four-bill package—which is now headed to the state House of Representatives after passing in the state Senate—is known as the Reproductive Health Act, and would repeal a number of targeted restrictions on abortion providers in Michigan, also known as TRAP laws.

The restrictions set to be repealed include a mandate in state law that forces patients who seek an abortion from a medical provider to wait at least 24 hours before they can receive care, as well as state licensing requirements that have prevented clinics from offering care in Michigan.

State Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) sponsored the bills alongside Sens. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), Erika Geiss (D-Taylor), and Mary Cavanagh (D-Redford Township). Anthony said the legislation reflects the “true needs and interests” of Michiganders—especially after 56% of voters supported Proposal 3 last year to cement reproductive rights into the state Constitution.

“For too long, Michigan’s laws on abortion were based on partisan talking points, not real-life experiences or accurate medical guidance,” Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) said in a statement on Thursday. “But voters made clear that, while opinions may differ, we share a belief in the right for individuals to make these important decisions themselves.”

The bills are now moving to the state House, where House Speaker Pro Tempore Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) has said she plans to pass them into state law as soon as possible.

“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.

Mandatory Waiting Periods for Patients

Senate Bills 474477 would repeal state laws requiring those seeking an abortion to receive pamphlets of information about alternative options, as well as wait 24 hours before they can receive care. Lawmakers said those requirements were intentionally put in state law in 1993 to create obstacles for women, and they pose a barrier to the state’s constitutional right to care.

“I firmly believe that those who can become pregnant deserve to be given the power and freedom to make their own medical decisions, without outside judgment or interference,” Geiss said. “The Reproductive Health Act sends a powerful message that we are serious about protecting the rights of all Michiganders—regardless of their gender, race, income, or ZIP code. This legislation ensures that legal loopholes do not infringe upon their rights any further.”

Officials at Planned Parenthood of Michigan (PPMI) said the rule has created unnecessary delays for patients in need of essential care—especially for those who might not have realized there was a waiting period, and already drove 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.”

State Licensing Tweaks

Also on the list for repeals: A state law signed in 2012 by former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder which currently requires clinics to perform at least 120 abortions every year in order to be licensed as a freestanding medical center. The law forced some clinics with less demand to close, and also restricted the use of telemedicine in essential reproductive healthcare matters.

Phenicie told The ‘Gander that those licensing requirements also prescribe a raft of 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.

For example:

Phenecie said the rules have blocked Planned Parenthood from offering procedural abortions at 12 of its 15 health centers—making the organization’s northernmost clinic in Flint. That means a Planned Parenthood patient living in the Upper Peninsula who is in need of a procedural abortion would need to travel seven hours by car to commute to their nearest clinic.

Lawmakers said that dearth of access is an unacceptable convenience for patients.

“For decades, restrictions were intentionally placed within Michigan’s laws and have impeded the process of affirming everyone’s right to reproductive freedom,” Chang said in a statement. “As the new majority, our work must include dismantling unnecessary barriers to reproductive healthcare. At the end of the day, reproductive healthcare is healthcare.”

Expanding Access to Care

The legislation would also erase various state-mandated screening and exam procedures that only apply to abortions, as well as rules that have prevented the state Department of Health and Human Services from awarding grant money for ultrasound equipment to abortion providers.

Another bill included in the Reproductive Health Act that was introduced last month in the Senate would repeal the state’s Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act, which forces Michiganders to buy separate riders to have abortion care covered under their insurance plans.

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.

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.

Other bills would also allow people to sue if their constitutional rights are infringed and end a statewide ban on colleges and university resources from providing referrals to abortion services.

“Supporting Michigan students and promoting both information and education regarding their reproductive healthcare choices is vital,” Cavanagh said in a statement. “Every Michigander deserves access to all the resources necessary to make an informed decision about their reproductive health without unnecessary restriction. This legislation expands that accessibility.”

Will of the Voters

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 the amendment bars the state from enacting any laws or regulations that would infringe upon those 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.

Since the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year, abortion has now been banned or restricted in 21 states, reports the New York Times. Michigan is among 20 states that have enacted protections in the wake of the ruling, but lawmakers said more can always be done to bolster access to care and solidify Michiganders’ right to make their own decisions.

Whitmer labeled the Reproductive Health Act as a top legislative priority in a speech this summer. The bills could still face roadblocks in the House, where a narrow Democratic majority will require every Democratic lawmaker to support the bills to pass them amid Republican opposition. Democratic Rep. Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit) has spoken out against the legislation.

READ MORE: Michigan joins nationwide battle to protect access to medication abortion

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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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