Michigan House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township, is negotiating with Michigan Right to Life to bring to a House vote a symbolic bill banning certain abortion procedures.
The Republican-led state Senate in January passed Senate Bill 776, which would prevent so-called partial birth abortions, defined in the bill as removing a fetus until the head or fetal trunk is outside a woman's body with the intention of aborting it. It allows for exceptions only if a woman's life is threatened. The bill is a replica of a federal law that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in January. Michigan is covered under the federal law.
The state bill won't change anything for women and their doctors facing the difficult decisions around late-term abortion. The bill's fate is uncertain at best. After passing the Michigan Senate, it was sent to the Democratic-led House for consideration, where it has stalled in the Judiciary Committee.
"We think this bill is totally unnecessary and completely an effort by Right to Life to do a political move in an election year," said Margy Long, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan. "It's identical to the federal bill, so there is no need for Michigan to have a similar law. This is really just Right to Life pushing to have all the legislators on record as to whether they would support an anti-abortion ban."
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Ed Rivet, legislative director for Michigan Right to Life, said his group is engaged in "active negotiations" with Dillon about how to move the bill forward.
"These negotiations can be tricky," Rivet said. "We're hoping to break through in the next day or two. Then timing becomes less critical. Once we agree what we're going to do, we can decide when we're going to do it."
The window for the negotiations, Rivet said, will close this week. Next Wednesday the group has its annual lobby day, when about 200 of its members come to the Capitol to promote anti-abortion legislation.
"This has been something we discussed with [Dillon] since the beginning of the session," Rivet said. "The Speaker has been very involved."
Rivet said his group has been waiting a long time for this bill to pass, and he alluded to political consequences for legislators if they refuse to take it up.
"We're moving toward action in one format or another," he added. "We want to negotiate the least amount of collateral damage on the House floor, on both sides."
The Judiciary Committee is chaired by Rep. Paul Condino, D-Southfield, a left-leaning legislator with a history of staring down Republicans. But Dillon could move for a discharge motion, whereby a majority of the House could vote to remove the bill from committee and bring it to a floor vote. Dillon and Condino could not be reached for comment.
Michigan's bill, like the federal ban, does not allow the procedure in situations where there is a threat to a woman's health – only when there is a threat to her life. The ban is opposed by numerous medical organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Nurses Association.
Rivet said the groups' opposition is "just part of their abortion ideology" and rooted in a "longstanding pro-abortion stance."
But Long disagreed. "The Michigan chapter of ACOG – that's a group of physicians," she said. "I think they're more knowledgeable about health care and the best way to practice health care than Michigan Right to Life is."
Both Rivet and Long agreed that the majority of the House supports the ban. But Long said she's optimistic that legislators on both sides of the issue will pressure Dillon to avoid taking up a redundant bill.
"We just have to wait and see," she said. "I think the legislators know it's not necessary. It's not about making policy in Michigan, it's about a political vote for Right to Life."
- Dr. Willie Parker, Politics Has No Place in Medicine
- Rachel Gold and Elizabeth Nash, State Legislative Trends: Abortion Ban Travels Across Country