Jonathan Oosting The Detroit News
Published 1:15 PM EDT May 14, 2019
Lansing — Michigan’s Republican-led Senate voted Tuesday to ban an abortion method known as evacuation and dilation despite a veto threat from Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, legal uncertainty and objections from a statewide physicians group.
Right to Life of Michigan and other anti-abortion advocates call the second-trimester procedure “dismemberment abortion” and argue it is a cruel practice that should be outlawed.
But critics contend the proposed ban is an unconstitutional attempt to chip away at legal abortion rights guaranteed under the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade.
Sen. Kim LaSata, a Bainbridge Township Republican who sponsored one of the bills, said the legislation proposes “reasonable restrictions” on abortion and would “criminalize the cruel and brutal procedure known as late-term dismemberment.”
In an emotional speech, LaSata told colleagues she nearly terminated a problematic pregnancy “under duress” two decades ago, but the doctor failed to complete the procedure, and she later gave birth to a daughter.
“It bothers me 20 years later, and until the day abortion is made illegal, I will continue to fight for those unborn babies, because who else is going to fight for them,” LaSata said. “It should be painful. It should be a hard decision.”
But Democrats argued that women should have the right to choose their own course when pregnancy complications arise. Abortions after the first trimester often involve rare, several fetal abnormalities and risks to women’s health, said Sen. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids.
Criminalizing the medically preferred procedure “will only result in increased complications and adverse medical outcomes,” she argued. “More bluntly, more suffering and more death.”
The two-bill package passed the Senate in a straight party-line vote, with support from 22 Republicans and opposition from 16 Democrats. The GOP-led House is expected to vote on identical legislation later Tuesday, along with a non-binding resolution declaring an aim to preserve “legal protections for unborn children” and recognize that “any abortion is a tragic loss of human life.”
The Michigan State Medical Society, which represents more than 15,000 physicians across the state, opposes the legislation, which it called a form of “interference that would hinder physician discretion to act within the standards of good medical practice and the best interest of the patient.”
The dilation and evacuation method is the most common form of abortion after 13 weeks of pregnancy and is “medically preferred because it results in the fewest complications for women compared to alternative procedures,” according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
The proposal would expand the state’s partial-birth abortion ban to include the dilation and evacuation procedure. Physicians could face up to two years in prison, a fine of up to $50,000 or both for using the abortion technique unless it is done to save the life of a pregnant woman endangered by a physical disorder, illness or injury.
The procedure involves dilation of a woman’s cervix, vacuum aspiration and surgical removal tissue from the uterus using instruments such as forceps. First-trimester abortions are more common, but there were 1,777 dilation and evacuation abortions reported to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in 2017.
Whitmer has vowed to veto any anti-abortion legislation that reaches her desk.
But the “dismemberment abortion” ban is a top priority for Right to Life of Michigan, which has used petition drives in the past to bypass gubernatorial opposition, most recently in 2014 after GOP Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed abortion insurance legislation.
The procedure is “not proper medical care for any human being,” President Barbara Listing said last week in a statement. “There is nothing humane about tearing the arms and legs off a child, before or after birth.”
Planned action on the bills coincided with Right to Life of Michigan’s annual legislative day. Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, and House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, were both scheduled to address the anti-abortion group at a gathering near the Michigan Capitol.
Later-term abortions place women at greater risk of surgical complications, pre-term births and mental health problems, Rebecca Mastee of the Michigan Catholic Conference said in written committee testimony. “Women deserve better, better than the D&E/dismemberment procedure, better than abortion.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has called the proposed ban “not only unconstitutional but dangerous.” Courts have blocked similar dilation and evacuation bans in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas, according to the ACLU.
Alabama, backed by 21 other states, is petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to hear arguments on its “dismemberment” abortion ban. A federal appeals court panel in 2018 ruled the law unconstitutional, saying it put an “undue burden” on the right to end a pregnancy before the fetus is viable.
It’s among a series of controversial laws approved in Republican-led states that advocates hope will compel the nation’s highest court to revisit abortion rules more than three decades after Roe v. Wade.
Planned Parenthood of Michigan argued the House and Senate proposals are part of “an orchestrated national strategy by anti-abortion politicians to restrict abortion.”
“The truth is a woman’s health, not politics, should guide important medical decisions at every point in pregnancy,” director of government relations Amanda West said in written testimony.
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