Repeal of old abortion laws helps address ‘access crisis’ in West Michigan

Photo Illustration/Jeff Kowalksy/AFP via Getty Images

By Kyle Kaminski

March 11, 2024

Last year, Michigan lawmakers repealed several old state laws to help expand access to abortion. And this year, Planned Parenthood of Michigan is doing exactly that.

MICHIGAN—A recent change in state law has enabled a health center in Grand Rapids to expand abortion care. And officials there say they’re now able to address an “abortion access crisis” that has plagued the west side of the state for the last six months.

Planned Parenthood of Michigan last week announced that its Irwin/Martin Health Center in Grand Rapids is “stepping in to help tackle West Michigan’s abortion access crisis” by expanding its services to include procedural abortion care—now making it the sole procedural abortion provider in Grand Rapids, and one of only two offering the procedure in West Michigan.

In a statement, Planned Parenthood of Michigan President and CEO Paula Thornton Greear said the newly expanded access to care was only made possible through provisions in the Reproductive Health Act, which was signed into law last year and took effect on Feb. 13.

“While many states are erecting barriers to abortion access, Michiganders have worked to tear them down, and we’re grateful to Gov. (Gretchen) Whitmer and leaders in the state legislature for recognizing the dire need to remove restrictions that have remained on the books,” she said.

Here’s the deal:

Most abortions are medication abortions, in which women are typically prescribed a two-dose regimen of pills that are used to induce an abortion through 10 weeks of pregnancy. No procedure is involved and patients can choose to take the prescription medication at home.

Procedural abortions are offered through about 20 weeks of pregnancy. This out-patient, in-clinic procedure is sometimes called surgical abortion—though it rarely requires surgery. 

Long-standing anti-abortion laws in Michigan have made it difficult for providers to meet all the licensing requirements needed to offer procedural abortions. As a result, Planned Parenthood has only been able to provide procedural abortions at three of its 15 health centers in Michigan.

These targeted restrictions on abortion providers (or TRAP laws) included several strict building requirements that all healthcare providers were required to meet before they could offer procedural abortions, including inch-by-inch regulations on hallway widths and ceiling heights. 

Last year, Democratic lawmakers passed (and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed) new laws to repeal those old requirements. With those old laws now officially off the books, health care providers are able to expand their services. And this month, that’s exactly what they’re doing.

Lifting Barriers to Care

The Reproductive Health Act repealed several long-standing legal restrictions for reproductive health care providers across Michigan—all with the goal of protecting and expanding access to affordable abortion care for more Michiganders statewide.

Officials at Planned Parenthood of Michigan said those old state laws were “medically unnecessary” and had little to do with patient safety. And they were so cost-prohibitive that they effectively prevented new clinics from opening their doors in underserved areas of the state.

With many of those legal barriers now lifted, Planned Parenthood is now officially able to provide procedural abortion at its health care center in Grand Rapids—making it the only facility in the city to offer the procedure after the Heritage Clinic for Women unexpectedly closed in August.

When that facility shut down, Planned Parenthood tracked an influx of patients—notably from Indiana—at its next-closest procedural abortion facility in Kalamazoo. As a result, patients have faced delays or have been forced to travel to Southeast Michigan or Chicago to receive care.

Dr. Sarah Wallet, chief medical operating officer for Planned Parenthood of Michigan, said patients in the Grand Rapids area deserve access to “the full spectrum of abortion care” without being forced to travel to another city (or state) just to receive access to a procedural abortion.

“That’s why we’re proud to add procedural abortion as an option right here in Grand Rapids,” she said. “We’re grateful that several harmful, politically-motivated restrictions officially ended, allowing us the opportunity to better meet the needs of our patients, including Black, LGBTQ, low-income and rural Michiganders—all of whom face additional barriers to accessing care.”

READ MORE: Michigan Republicans ask court to restrict medication abortion access

For the latest Michigan news, follow The ‘Gander on Twitter.

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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