The Michigan legislature is considering a pair of bills that would criminalize coercing a woman to have an abortion, a policy that has been pushed for years by anti-choice lawmakers.
Supporters claim that the proposals will protect women from being forced into terminating a pregnancy, while opponents say the language of the bills is too vague and will promulgate myths about abortion.
“Coercive abortion laws like these are the byproduct of a decades long public and political campaign to market that anyone who seeks an abortion does so because she’s confused, misled or coerced,” Shelli Weisberg of the ACLU of Michigan told MLive.com.
While a requirement of the bills addresses women who are forced into terminating a pregnancy, that measure does not mention women who are forced into carrying a pregnancy to term. Opponents of the proposed law say that shows the real agenda behind such legislation.
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“These bills are one-sided in that they criminalize only coercion to terminate a pregnancy rather than evenhandedly covering the whole array of reproductive coercion,” Mary Pollock, government relations coordinator for the American Association of University Women of Michigan, told MLive.com.
Anti-choice legislators, however, have said that is a separate issue and could be addressed in other legislation.
Sponsored by Rep. Amanda Price (R-Park Township), HB 4787 would make it a criminal offense to coerce a pregnant person to have an abortion against their will.
The bill, supported by the anti-choice Right to Life of Michigan, would add criminal penalties to a law passed legislation in 2012 that requires abortion providers to screen for coercion before performing the procedure.
HB 4787 defines coercion in several ways, including discontinuing, attempting to discontinue, or threatening to discontinue support for a pregnant person who has stated that they don’t want to terminate their pregnancy.
Included in the definition of coercion is withdrawing from a contract or agreement, attempting or threatening to withdraw, or otherwise violating the terms of that contract or agreement. Termination of employment is also mentioned.
As the bill is written, a pregnant person could prove coercion if they have made “any statement or act, including inaction, that would clearly demonstrate to a reasonable person that she is unwilling to comply with a request or demand to have an abortion.”
Opponents of HB 4787 criticized its definition of coercion, and said that it is too vague and open to interpretation.
“A boyfriend saying to a girlfriend who’s pregnant, ‘I really don’t want to have kids, maybe we should break up’ is one thing. It’s different than dragging her into an abortion clinic and forcing her to have an abortion,” Weisberg told the state House Criminal Justice Committee during a hearing Tuesday, reported WDET.
Price also introduced HB 4788, which would make it a class E felony for a third or subsequent conviction of the assault and battery of a pregnant woman when the assailant knows the woman is pregnant. If convicted, a person would face a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Republicans during the hearing attempted to link the proposed legislation to preventing intimate partner violence. “Abortion coercion is another unfortunate element of domestic violence,” Rep. Kurt Heise (R-Plymouth) said, reported WDET.
Rep. Marcia Hovey-Wright (D-Muskegon) challenged the notion that the proposed bills are related to intimate partner violence.
“The sponsors of these bills say they will combat domestic violence, but they do nothing to help women who are coerced into carrying a pregnancy to term by abusive partners—a problem that is far more pervasive than coerced abortion,” Hovey-Wright said, reported MLive.com.
A 2014 study by Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health found that women in abusive relationships who were forced to continue unintended pregnancies were less likely to be able to escape their abusive relationship. “[W]e found that the incidents of domestic violence by the man involved in the pregnancy declined among women who had the abortion but stayed steady when she carried the pregnancy to term,” wrote Dr. Diana Greene Foster, principal investigator of the study. “This indicates that being unable to have the abortion tethered women to violent men, while women who have the abortion were more able to escape abusive relationships.”
The Democrats at the hearing, all of whom are women, voiced strong opposition to the coerced abortion bills.
The committee did not hold a vote on any of the bills. A vote is expected to be held next week. Republicans hold a 5-3 advantage in the committee.
If the committee approves the bills next week they would then move to the full house for further consideration. Republicans hold a 63-47 majority in the state house and a 27-11 majority in the state senate.