Michigan Republicans set to bypass Whitmer and ban abortion procedure

LANSING — Michigan’s Republican-led legislature is likely to criminalize the most common form of second-trimester abortion early next year if initiated legislation reaches the Capitol.

It would bypass Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who has promised a veto but would trigger a legal battle.

Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey discussed the burning issue Tuesday in year-end interviews with Bridge Magazine as Right to Life of Michigan prepares to submit signatures collected during of one statewide petition campaign.

The anti-abortion group argues that dilation and evacuation procedure amounts to a cruel form of “dismemberment”, a description included in language of petition summary approved by the Michigan Board of State Solicitors.

But critics argue the proposal would ban a medically safe procedure – and threaten doctors with jail time – as part of a broader attempt to curtail legal abortion rights.

“I fully anticipate that if they present the proposal to us with the appropriate number of signatures, it will pass,” said Chatfield, R-Levering. “I think it’s the right policy. In an age of divided government, you are not going to agree on some points that both parties care about, and this is definitely one of the points that would fall into this category.

The Michigan Constitution gives the legislature 40 days to pass petition-initiated legislation or let it go to the ballot box for voters to decide. An initiated invoice can become law without Governor’s signature if approved by a majority of the House and Senate.

It’s only happened nine times since 1963, but Right to Life of Michigan has managed to navigate the rare path several times, most recently in 2013, when the GOP-led legislature enacted insurance legislation. abortion opposed by Republican Governor Rick Snyder.

As of Tuesday, organizers were “neck and neck” in petitions submitted by volunteers across the state and expected a final tally of about 374,000 signatures, said Genevieve Marnon, legislative director of Michigan’s Right To Life.

The group has until 5 p.m. Monday to submit at least 340,047 valid signatures and plans to do so by then, if not sooner. Organizers check petitions for duplicate signatures or other errors that could result in invalidation during review by the Michigan Office of Elections.

“I would be much more comfortable with 400,000 (signatures), which was our original goal, but that gives us a 10% cushion,” Marnon told Bridge Magazine.

“And based on our previous records being very, very clean – we double and triple check (the signatures) – I think we’ll be fine.”

Planned Parenthood of Michigan opposes the petition campaign and is prepared to challenge any questionable signatures, spokeswoman Angela Vasquez-Giroux said. This process may be more “vigorous” than originally anticipated “now that we know they won’t have as big of a buffer as they wanted,” she said.

Republican majorities in the House and Senate have already made their position clear. They approved similar legislation in May but did not send the bills to Whitmer, who was also unequivocal in his opposition and promise of a veto.

The Senate is “likely” to vote on initiated legislation if it comes to them again via petition, said Shirkey, who told Bridge he had “no hesitation on a personal basis.”

But the Clarklake Republican also suggested there might be “other circumstances that might provide different, more effective avenues.” He declined to elaborate on the strategy, but said he was not worried about upsetting the governor by sidestepping her.

“I’m just as confident that she’s confident in her position as I’m confident in my position,” said Shirkey, who has already voted to ban abortion methods earlier this year. “So I don’t think it’s going to strain relations. There would be no surprise there.

Beyond the disputed signatures, Planned Parenthood plans to intervene at every possible stage to try to block the initiative, Vasquez-Giroux said. The group will warn lawmakers against “impersonating doctors” and will take the law to court if it is signed into law.

“In every other state where this policy has been challenged, it has been found to be unconstitutional,” she said.

Mississippi and West Virginia are the only states with active and enforceable bans on dilation and evacuation abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports legal abortion access.

Similar laws in at least 10 other states have been permanently or temporarily blocked by the courts.

The Supreme Court of the United States this summer refused to hear an appeal regarding a dilation and evacuation method ban in Alabama that was stayed by lower courts on the grounds that it created an “undue burden” on legal access to abortion.

But in doing so, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas suggested the Supreme Court should eventually revisit what he called a “demonstrably flawed” standard that has guided litigation over abortion laws. “The idea that anything in the Constitution prevents states from passing laws prohibiting the dismemberment of a living child is implausible,” Thomas wrote.

About 7% of all Michigan abortions in 2018 were performed using the dilation and evacuation method, according to health department data. The overwhelming majority of the state’s 26,716 abortions that year were performed in the first trimester using suction curettage or nonsurgical medical procedures.

The dilation and evacuation technique was used in 1,908 Michigan abortions in 2018. Of these, 96.5% were performed in a free-standing ambulatory surgical facility, while 3.3% were performed in a hospital.

The Michigan State Medical Society this year spoke out against similar legislation, calling the proposed ban on dilation and evacuation a “legislative interference that would fetter a physician’s discretion to act within good medical practice and in the best interest of the patient”.

Banning the method “could cause a physician to forgo exercising their best professional medical judgment for fear of criminal prosecution” and create uncertainty that “could result in increased complications and adverse patient outcomes,” the report said. Dr. Betty Chu, president of the medical society. , told lawmakers in May.

Under the initiated legislation, a doctor who performs a dilation and evacuation abortion could face up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000. There would be exceptions if the procedure is deemed necessary to save the life of the mother.

The proposal would also give the spouse of a woman who undergoes a dilation and evacuation abortion – or her mother, if she is under 18 – the right to sue the treating physician or medical provider for monetary damages, including the cost of emotional distress. .

Banning the dilation and evacuation method would disproportionately impact low-income women, women of color, and young women who are more likely to have second-trimester abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Right to Life of Michigan used nearly 8,000 volunteers to circulate petitions for the initiative, Marnon said. They collected signatures at summer street fairs, parades, football games and Christian music concerts, including a recent performance by Michael W. Smith in Grand Rapids.

“If we were talking about vets ripping out the arms and legs of unborn kittens in their mothers’ wombs, people would be marching through the streets,” Marnon said. “I don’t think you even need to be an ardent pro-lifer to recognize the barbaric nature of this procedure.”

While successful statewide petition campaigns can often cost upwards of a million dollars, Right to Life’s volunteer network has kept things relatively inexpensive.

As of October 20, the Michigan Values ​​Life petition collection committee has reported $34,468 in cash donations and $120,618 in in-kind support, mostly from Right to Life and its local chapters. The committee had spent $32,819 on printing petitions, letters from pastors, legal services and more.

The Coalition to Protect Access to Care, a new committee formed to fight the initiative, had reported $28,059 in in-kind contributions through the end of October, all from Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan.

Right to Life of Michigan is not involved or does not support a second petition calling for a state ban on abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which typically occurs around the sixth week of a pregnancy.

The Michigan Heartbeat Coalition will miss an initial deadline to submit at least 340,047 valid signatures by the end of the year. Instead, the committee will launch some signatures it gathered in early July with the aim of collecting more in the coming weeks under a revised 180-day window. Organizers plan now circulating petitions until January 22.

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