Michigan Seeking Federal Abortion Ban Copy

Alexa Stanard

The Michigan House is poised to consider a symbolic bill that would mirror the federal ban on so-called partial birth abortion. Local Planned Parenthood staff say Michigan Right to Life is using the bill as an election-year loyalty test.

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."

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The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back the Hyde Amendment's ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate, has promised to stand with nominee Hillary Clinton in opposing the Hyde Amendment, a ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, told CNN’s State of the Union Sunday that Kaine “has said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment,” according to the network’s transcript.

“Voters can be 100 percent confident that Tim Kaine is going to fight to protect a woman’s right to choose,” Mook said.

The commitment to opposing Hyde was “made privately,” Clinton spokesperson Jesse Ferguson later clarified to CNN’s Edward Mejia Davis.

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Kaine’s stated support for ending the federal ban on abortion funding is a reversal on the issue for the Virginia senator. Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard  that he had not “been informed” that this year’s Democratic Party platform included a call for repealing the Hyde Amendment. He said he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

Repealing the Hyde Amendment has been an issue for Democrats on the campaign trail this election cycle. Speaking at a campaign rally in New Hampshire in January, Clinton denounced Hyde, noting that it made it “harder for low-income women to exercise their full rights.”

Clinton called the federal ban on abortion funding “hard to justify” when asked about it later that month at the Brown and Black Presidential Forum, adding that “the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.”

Clinton’s campaign told Rewire during her 2008 run for president that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

The Democratic Party on Monday codified its commitment to opposing Hyde, as well as the Helms Amendment’s ban on foreign assistance funds being used for abortion care. 

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back Hyde’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.

When asked about whether the president supported the repeal of Hyde during the White House press briefing Tuesday, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said he did not “believe we have changed our position on the Hyde Amendment.”

When pushed by a reporter to address if the administration is “not necessarily on board” with the Democratic platform’s call to repeal Hyde, Schultz said that the administration has “a longstanding view on this and I don’t have any changes in our position to announce today.”

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Congresswoman Pushes Intersectionality at Democratic National Convention

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Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) charges that reproductive health-care restrictions have a disproportionate impact on the poor, the urban, the rural, and people of color.

The members of Congress who flocked to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week included a vocal advocate for the intersection of racial and reproductive justice: Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).

Watson Coleman’s longstanding work in these areas “represented the intersection of who I am,” she said during a discussion in Philadelphia sponsored by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Cosmopolitan. Reproductive health-care restrictions, she stressed, have a disproportionate effect on the poor, the urban, the rural, and people of color.

“These decisions impact these communities even more so [than others],” she told Rewire in an interview. “We don’t have the alternatives that middle-class, suburban, white women have. And we’d rather they have them.”

Watson Coleman has brought that context to her work in Congress. In less than two years on Capitol Hill, she co-founded the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls and serves on the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, a GOP-led, $1.2 million investigation that she and her fellow Democrats have called an anti-choice “witch hunt.”

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Coleman said she’s largely found support and encouragement among her fellow lawmakers during her first term as a woman of color and outspoken advocate for reproductive rights.

“What I’ve gotten from my Republican colleagues who are so adamantly against a woman’s right to choose—I don’t think it has anything to do with my being a woman or an African American, it has to do with the issue,” she said.

House Republicans have increasingly pushed anti-choice policies in advance of the ongoing August recess and November’s presidential election. The House this month passed the Conscience Protection Act, which would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face supposed coercion to provide abortion care or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in such care.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) lauded passage of the bill and the House’s thus-far unsuccessful effort to prove that Planned Parenthood profited from fetal tissue donations—allegations based on widely discredited videos published by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-choice front group that has worked closely with GOP legislators to attack funding for Planned Parenthood.

On the other side of the aisle, Watson Coleman joined 118 other House Democrats to co-sponsor the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act (HR 2972). Known as the EACH Woman Act, the legislation would overturn the Hyde Amendment and ensure that every woman has access to insurance coverage of abortion care.

The Hyde Amendment’s restriction of federal funding for abortion care represents a particularly significant barrier for people with low incomes and people of color.

The Democratic Party platform, for the first time, calls for repealing the Hyde Amendment, though the process for undoing a yearly federal appropriations rider remains unclear.

For Watson Coleman, the path forward on getting rid of the Hyde Amendment is clear on at least one point: The next president can’t go it alone.

“The president will have to have a willing Congress,” she said. She called on the electorate to “recognize that this is not a personality contest” and “remove some of those people who have just been obstructionists without having the proper evidence.”

In the meantime, what does a “willing Congress” look like for legislation with anti-choice roadblocks? A majority voting bloc helps, Watson Coleman said. But that’s not everything.

“There are lots of bills that Republicans will vote for if their leadership would simply bring them up,” she said.