A Michigan state Senate committee heard testimony regarding a package of bills designed to prevent women from being coerced to have an abortion against their will. The state House approved the measure with strong, bi-partisan votes of 72-37 in March and the five bill package represents the most comprehensive abortion anti-coercion policy in the country.
MLive features more information about the hearing:
After several women testified about their own experience being coerced into terminating a pregnancy, Jones, R-Grand Ledge, spoke about a 19-year-old female college student with an unplanned pregnancy. He said the father’s parents brought the girl “into a restaurant and did everything they could to coerce this young lady into an abortion. Offers of money; offers of all kinds. She resisted that, got an attorney and got full custody of that baby.” “She then stayed in college, became a great special education teacher and adopted two special needs children that nobody wanted. The baby in question that they wanted aborted was reading thick books like ‘Harry Potter’ by age 6. At age 7 he tested at ninth-grade level, at age 12 at a college level. “He’s my 14-year-old grandson.”
On February 14, 2012, this five-bill package was voted out of the House Committee on Families, Children and Seniors. The votes on HB 4798, 4799 and 5181 were 6 votes in favor, 2 against, and 1 abstention. The votes on 5182 and 5134 were both 7-2.
Right to Life of Michigan and the Michigan Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence spoke in support of the bills. The Michigan Catholic Conference and Michigan Family Forum also supported the bills but did not speak. The ACLU opposed the bills but did not speak.
The lead bill in the package, the Coercive Abortion Prevention Act (HB 4799), creates criminal penalties for actions or threats of violence, financial pressure, withdrawing housing support or employment discrimination. Other bills in the package require that abortion clinics screen for coercion and domestic violence, and then provide appropriate referrals to facilitate an escape from the abusive situation. All abortion clinics also must post a sign informing women of their rights under this law.
As many as 64 percent of women who have abortions report feeling pressured. This pressure often rises to the level of coercion, as housing, university athletic scholarships, and other financial support are used as leverage to force women to have abortions. Further studies reveal that in an alarming number of cases, coercion escalates into physical violence.
Right to Life of Michigan says the legislation is sorely needed: “Research confirms that a substantial number of women feel forced by boyfriends, spouses, parents and others to have an abortion against their will. Women are coerced through threats of physical violence, withdrawal of financial support, loss of housing such as being kicked out, and violation of employment contracts or other legal agreements. Furthermore, numerous studies have confirmed that women presenting for abortion are substantially more likely to be suffering domestic violence. ”
The pro-life group described how the various bills work together:
H.B. 4799 adds to Michigan’s current anti-extortion/coercion provisions by including coercion to abort as a specific crime. It will be illegal to coerce a woman to abort by threatening or actually committing the following actions: physical assault, withdrawing financial support, or terminating or otherwise violating a legal contract such as an apartment lease, university athletic scholarship, or employment contract.
H.B. 4798 establishes penalties commensurate with the seriousness of the prohibited action. Physical assault and stalking carry more severe penalties, while withdrawal of financial support or violation of a legal contract will be punishable by stiff fines.
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H.B. 5134 and 5182 will require that abortion clinics screen for coercion and domestic violence, and then provide appropriate referrals to facilitate an escape from the abusive situation. All abortion clinics also must post a sign informing women that coercion to abort is a crime. The Department of Health must include a section regarding coercion to abort in the informed consent materials that women are required to read before having an abortion, and include a domestic violence hotline number.
H.B. 5181 gives a woman the right to bring a civil suit against any person who coerces her to abort.
House approval of the bills caps 6 years of work to enact this protection for pregnant women and a favorable reception of the bills is expected in the Michigan Senate. Prior versions of bills have been introduced the last three sessions. In the 2005-06 session, the legislation passed the House but died in the Senate. In the 2007-08 and 2009-10 sessions, the bills died in committee.
The Wisconsin legislature is working towards similar legislation.