Reproductive Health Act bills receive mixed testimony in Senate committee ⋆
Updated, 7:40 p.m., 10/10/23
A package of Michigan Senate bills updating the state’s reproductive health policies received varied and at times emotional testimony from medical professionals and interest groups in the Tuesday meeting of the Health and Human Services Committee.
If passed, Senate Bills 474-477, sponsored by state Sens. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing), Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) and Mary Cavanagh (D-Redford Twp.) would build on the repeal of Michigan’s 1931 abortion ban with the passage of Proposal 3 by overhauling the state’s policy on reproductive health.
The bills would update sentencing and health guidelines to reflect the repeal of the ban, including striking from the law Michigan’s mandatory 24-hour waiting period for abortion patients and creating legal distinctions for individuals who have miscarriages. They did not receive votes on Tuesday.
Obstetricians and gynecologists who testified said that passing the bills would remove critical barriers that abortion patients currently face when trying to access sometimes lifesaving care.
Michigan Planned Parenthood Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sarah Wallett at the abortion rights protest in Ann Arbor, May 14, 2022 | Angela Demas
Sarah Wallet, a Planned Parenthood OB-GYN, said that for some patients, facing longer waiting periods before being able to get an appointment can lead to pregnancy complications or financial burdens.
“These laws endanger my patients every single day,” Wallet said of Michigan’s current regulations.
She said she had seen several patients’ abortion plans derailed by policies like the 24-hour waiting period that’s required between a consultation appointment and the abortion procedure itself, including a recent patient who flew from Texas to receive care.
“She knew that Michigan was a haven state for abortion access, but she did not know about the legally required 24 hour delay before we could provide her with care,” Wallet said. “This patient had planned a one day trip- a morning flight to Michigan and an evening flight back home to Texas. … She learned that if she returned home to Texas as that evening was planned, her only option would be to continue a pregnancy against her will.”
As many U.S. states have banned abortion entirely since the removal of Roe v. Wade in 2022, Wallet said the flow of out-of-state patients to Michigan’s abortion clinics has already increased.
“I can tell you countless stories like this of patients who’ve flown in from faraway states to see us, but also stories of Michiganders who, because they live in rural areas of our state, are forced to drive seven hours to a health center and back for a single appointment,” Wallet said.
Nine individuals were invited to testify, but only seven were able due to time constraints. The organizations represented in the testimony spanned Planned Parenthood of Michigan and the Michigan Section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to Right to Life of Michigan and the Michigan Catholic Conference. More than two dozen cards of support or opposition were read from individuals not wishing to testify.
The committee is likely to put the package to a vote at its next meeting on Oct. 17.
A sticking point for anti-abortion groups that testified was the proposed repeal of certain licensing regulations for freestanding, outpatient abortion clinics, which opponents of the bills said would make it potentially dangerous for patients seeking abortions.
Rebecca Mastee of the Michigan Catholic Conference said that without the licensing requirements currently on the books, abortion clinics won’t be held to appropriate sanitary and safety standards.
“Michigan women deserve the guarantee that any surgical abortion will only be conducted in a clean environment that meets basic health and standard,” Mastee said.
Some medical professionals, however, said that those standards are already adhered to by nature of larger medical ethics and regulations set for all surgical facilities. Lisa Harris, an OB-GYN at the University of Michigan, testified that abortion clinics are usually held to an unnecessarily high standard that other free standing surgical centers aren’t.
The laws and policies that already govern all medical care, including scope of practice regulations, stay in place, even if this bill passes,” Harris said.
Another point of contention was the bill’s potential repeal of Michigan’s informed consent law, which requires that abortion patients are counseled on pregnancy and parenthood, including being shown images of viable fetuses, prior to making the decision to proceed with an abortion.
Amanda Mazur, a mother of two who made the choice to have a medically necessary abortion, said that the informed consent requirements caused her emotional distress and were barriers to receiving care.
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Among these barriers were the required reading of biased information designed to shame and dissuade me from my decision,” Mazur said. This included viewing renderings of healthy fetuses that supposedly corresponded to my own, though this was clearly not the case. … I also had to review literature on prenatal care, childbirth and parenting, as if I wasn’t already a parent, and as if I hadn’t dreamed of experiencing those things with this pregnancy.”
Mazur said that she hoped the passage of the bills would lead to easier abortion access for others like her, and would prevent other patients from having to experience the stress and financial burden that she went through to obtain an abortion.
“It was like rubbing salt into the wound,” Mazur said. “The emotional and financial harm inflicted on people like myself is real.”
authored by Lily Guiney
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