Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed into law last week a two-bill package that will penalize citizens who engage in what Republican lawmakers are calling “abortion coercion.”
Snyder signed into law HB 4787 and its companion bill, HB 4830, on June 9, making it a criminal offense to coerce a pregnant person to have an abortion against their will.
As part of an omnibus anti-abortion legislative effort in 2012, the Republican-controlled legislation implemented provisions that involved a screening process for coercion at abortion clinics.
HB 4787, sponsored by Rep. Amanda Price (R-Park Township) and supported by Right to Life of Michigan, explicitly criminalizes coercing someone into an abortion. Under HB 4787, penalties include “a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000.00.”
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The law also outlines the many forms of coercion the bill seeks to prevent, including threats. For example, “threaten” is defined as making “2 or more statements or to engage in a course of conduct that would cause a reasonable person to believe that the individual is likely to act in accordance with the statements or the course of conduct.”
The companion law, HB 4830, sponsored by Rep. Nancy Jenkins (R-Clayton), creates felony penalties of jail time or $5,000 to $10,000 fines for those found guilty of violating HB 4787.
In May, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bills by a 3-1 vote, sending the measure to the Senate for a full vote. The House of Representatives had approved the two-bill package in March.
In 2012, Michigan lawmakers in support of the omnibus bill cited a 2004 study co-authored by David Reardon, the engineer who founded the anti-choice nonprofit organization, the Elliot Institute. That study, titled “Induced abortion and traumatic stress: A preliminary comparison of American and Russian women” was published in the Medical Science Monitor and suggested 64 percent of women who had abortions said they felt pressured into having the procedure performed.
Pro-choice advocates have criticized the study, noting that it used a small sample size of American women, 50 percent of whom already believed abortion was “morally wrong.” Advocates also point to a 2005 Guttmacher Institute study in which 14 percent of women who were asked their reasons for choosing abortion cited “husband or partner wants me to have an abortion,” and 6 percent cited “parents want me to have an abortion.” However, the Guttmacher study also found that less than 0.5 percent of each group cited those wishes as the single most important reason for having the abortion.
Many critics note that the Michigan laws do not include language that protects people forced into carrying a pregnancy to term and only focuses on those who are forced into terminating a pregnancy.
Sen. Rebekah Warren, (D-Ann Arbor) in particular, criticized that aspect of the legislation, according to the Detroit News.
“If we’re going to say today that it’s unacceptable today to coerce a woman into having an abortion and terminating a pregnancy, it should be equally unacceptable to force a woman into continuing a pregnancy that may not be in her best interest, that may not be what she needs for her health or mental well-being or for her future,” Warren said.
When the Michigan legislature began considering the two bills in 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood affiliates in Michigan spoke out against the law, arguing they were unnecessary.
Shelli Weisberg of the ACLU of Michigan told MLive.com that coercive abortion laws were rooted in false assumptions that those seeking abortion care are “confused, misled or coerced.”
Similarly, Planned Parenthood and lawmakers like Sen. Steve Bieda (D-Warren), said Michigan already had laws in place to prevent and penalize people who engage in coercive behavior such as stalking and discriminating against pregnant people, according to the Detroit News.