Michigan Lawmakers Seeking to Reduce High Rates of Unintended Pregnancy, STDs

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Michigan Lawmakers Seeking to Reduce High Rates of Unintended Pregnancy, STDs

Todd Heywood

Michigan lawmakers introduce a series of bills to address crises of sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies.

LANSING — Citing state statistics showing that one in four teenagers
has a sexually transmitted infection and the state has an “unacceptable” number of
unplanned pregnancies, State Rep. Rebekah Warren, an Ann Arbor Democrat, and State Sen. Gilda Jacobs, a Huntington Woods Democrat, on Tuesday introduced a series of bills they say will address the crisis.

“It’s these sort of moral imperatives because of these pretty
alarming statistics and the economic imperative,” Warren said in an interview, noting that studies show that for
every one dollar spent on preventing sexually transmitted infections and
unintended pregnancy, the state saves four to six dollars in the first
year in social services costs. “We can spend those dollars on other
needs we have in the state now.”

“There has been a lot of conversation about choice,” said Jacobs.
“This really can act to bring both sides together. To really reframe
the conversation.”

The wide-ranging set of 15 bills addresses sex
education, dispensing of prescriptions, regulation of crisis pregnancy centers, and
access to emergency contraception for victims of criminal sexual conduct or rape.

Roe is gone. The chaos is just beginning.

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H.B. 2472 would create a new law to regulate crisis pregnancy
centers, mandating that such
centers provide medically accurate and objective information about the
wide range of options available to women facing unintended pregnancies, including abortion services; require that such clinics
post notices to clients when the organization does not employee
licensed medical professionals nor provide information about abortions
or birth control; and ensure distribution of specific educational
literature provided by the Michigan Department of Community Health.

The legislation, if passed, would allow clients to sue crisis pregnancy centers for damages if a group violates the act.

Warren, who worked in women’s reproductive health issues before
being elected to the Michigan House, said those organizations have been
found to be providing false information in the past, and it’s a problem seen elsewhere in the country.

“From our perspective, we really want women to know when they’re
walking in that they are getting unbiased information, they’re getting
true information, they’re getting medically accurate information,”
Warren said. “We wouldn’t let people do fraudulent advertising in lots
of other places in the state, and we just want that same courtesy when
it comes to women’s reproductive health.”

Warren stopped short of accusing Michigan-based crisis pregnancy
centers of committing fraud, saying she did not have enough current
information to make such a claim.

Another bill in the package would amend the state public schools
code to mandate abstinence-plus education. Currently, the state
mandates abstinence-only education, but studies have shown those
programs while helping youth put off sexual activity for some time,
also lead to more risk behavior exposing those youth to sexually
transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies because they “do not
have the tools” to address them, Warren said. Abstinence-plus stresses
abstaining from sexuality activity, but it also teaches youth about how
to protect against sexually transmitted infection and unwanted
pregnancies when they do decide to become sexually active.

“We want to make sure young people get what they need,” said Jacobs. “Good sex education.”

For her part, Warren said abstinence-only education has not been “a good investment.”

In yet another piece of legislation, the lawmakers are targeting the
need to make emergency contraception available to rape victims. This bill, H.B. 822, would mandate that facilities providing emergency and
urgent care for rape victims make emergency contraception available. A
similar piece of legislation passed the Democratic-controlled House
last session, but was not taken up by the Republican-controlled Senate.

Both Warren and Jacobs had not thought about, but agreed it was a
good idea, to mandate counseling and access to anti-retroviral
medications for rape victims as well.  Studies have shown that when
these medications are taken within 72 hours of an exposure, there is a
high likelihood of preventing infection with HIV.  Currently, state law
does not mandate victims of rape be counseled about access to the
medications.

“I think that is actually something good and important for us to consider,” Warren said.

“I don’t think we’ve ever thought about that, but I think it’s a
great idea,” Jacobs said of adding HIV-medication protocols to the law.

The legislation with the most likelihood to trigger controversy is a
measure that would mandate that pharmacists distribute medications
prescribed by a doctor. Current federal rules allow health care
workers, including pharmacists, to refuse to participate in medical
treatments they find morally or ethically offensive. The legislation,
H.B. 2358, specifically states that pharmacists shall not refuse to
dispense or transfer prescriptions based on his or her ethical, moral
or religious beliefs.

A competing piece of legislation was introduced earlier this year
which would codify the right of a pharmacist or medical provider to refuse to provide services based on personal ethical, moral or religious beliefs.

While Warren said testimony given to various legislative committees
has proven pharmacists have refused to dispense medications because of
their beliefs, Jacobs said both pieces of legislation will face an
uphill battle, “because they are so controversial.”

Warren concurs, saying she doesn’t see an easy path for the
legislative package, but said the decision for medical treatment should
remain between a doctor and patient, without the interference of a
pharmacist.

“We don’t think a pharmacist should sit in judgment on a
prescription a doctor has prescribed and that is in their patient’s
best interests,” Warren said.

Ed Rivet, policy director for Right to Life, and Dave Maluchnik,
spokesman for the Michigan Catholic Conference, both said their
organizations were still reviewing the legislation.

Rivet said most of the legislation was out of the domain of Right to Life.

“We generally don’t take positions on contraception-related issues or emergency contraception,” he wrote.

But he did provide statements regarding two pieces of the
legislative package. The first piece he took aim at was a bill
targeting pregnancy crisis center.

This bill to mandate certain actions by pregnancy
centers was obviously drafted out of ignorance on how these centers
operate. Many of them do have licensed professionals providing services
like ultrasounds. Furthermore, the bill’s mandate to provide women with
lists of abortion providers, etc. is absurd government-mandated speech.
These centers would never accommodate this mandate; it is contrary to
their mission. So is this a thinly veiled effort to force pregnancy
centers to either defeat their own purpose or just close down?

Rivet also took issue with legislation mandating that pharmacists
fill prescriptions, even if doing so would violate their moral, ethical
or religious beliefs.

The bill to override the conscience rights of
pharmacists is exactly the wrong kind of blunt legislative instrument
needed to address the conscience issue. President Obama said in his
speech at Notre Dame that a reasonable conscience clause law can be
drafted. There is nothing reasonable about this proposed bill. Rather,
Rep. Pete Lund and Sen. Roger Kahn have introduced the Employee
Accommodation Act, H.B. 4850/S.B. 499 that creates process to
accommodate employee conscience rights without compromising the
requirements or mission of the employer.

Maluchnik said the Michigan Catholic Conference would also oppose the pharmacist provisions.

President Obama recently spoke of drafting sensible
conscience legislation. His message clearly didn’t reach the sponsor of
this bill. Such a measure is blatantly anti-religious and displays
utter disregard and disrespect for the importance of freedom of
conscience. The Conference will unconditionally oppose this
ill-conceived legislation.

Maluchnik said the conference needed to further review the remainder of the legislation before commenting.

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