News Abortion

Michigan Republicans Push for Tax Breaks for Fetuses

Robin Marty

Now, you too can declare a state deduction during the first trimester!  

One of the jokes I have often made about so-called personhood amendments is that if you give a fertilized egg full rights as a person, you should get to claim them on your taxes, too.

Suddenly, that joke is a lot less funny.

Michigan Republicans are now pushing a bill that would grant a tax credit to any fetus proven to be at least 12 weeks along by December 31st. Calling it an “advance” on the actual tax break the family would receive the next calendar year, the GOP frames the financial help as a chance to offset expenses with pregnancy.

MLive reports:

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“You’re recognizing the fact that people have additional expenses, another person to take care of,” [bill sponsor Rep. Jud] Gilbert said of the rationale behind allowing fetuses to be claimed as income tax exemptions. “Money saved there could be contributed to doctor’s bills and all kinds of things.”

The bill, if it passed, would provide about $160 per family and would cost the state $5 million to $10 million per year, according to the report. Hospital costs associated with a pregnancy tend to range in the thousands to tens of thousands of dollars, especially for women without health insurance. In the meantime, the state has continued to fight against the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the state insurance exchange.

The lack of financial impact the tax credit would offer families make it clear that this move isn’t about family support, but about reproductive rights. Zach Pohl, Executive Director of Progress Michigan, calls the move for exactly what it is — redefining “personhood” via the tax code. He said in a press release:

“This is really a backdoor way of passing extreme personhood legislation, which has been rejected by voters in states across the country. Even worse, this would create a special new tax credit for unborn fetuses, after Lansing Republicans eliminated the tax credit for living, breathing children last year. It’s time for our elected leaders to get their priorities straight and start working together to create good jobs and improve education.”

Provide extra support for a fetus while cutting off aid to those who are born? Anti-choice politicking at its best.

News Abortion

Michigan Governor Signs Republican-Initiated ‘Abortion Coercion’ Bills Into Law

Michelle D. Anderson

Snyder signed into law HB 4787 and its companion bill, HB 4830, last week, making it a criminal offense to coerce a pregnant person to have an abortion against their will.

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.

Roundups Environment

On World Water Day, a Spotlight on U.S. Public Water Systems

Kanya D’Almeida

A continuing water crisis in Flint, Michigan, is shattering the perception that only residents of poor countries are denied access to this basic human right.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect a change in the estimates made by Fitch Ratings, which originally reported that replacing an estimated six million lead service lines across the country could cost upwards of $275 billion. Fitch has since updated that estimate to “a few billion to $50 billion.”

Tuesday is World Water Day, that time of year when the media reminds us that 663 million people globally about one in ten peoplelack access to safe drinking water, the majority of them in the developing world.

This year the spotlight is shining just as harshly on the United States, where a continuing water crisis in Flint, Michigan, is shattering the perception that only residents of poor countries are denied access to this basic human right.

Some 100,000 residents in Flint, a predominantly Black city, are still being forced to drink, cook with, and bathe their children in bottled water, after corrosive water from the Flint River leached lead from pipes, joints, and fixtures into the city’s water supply.

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The crisis began in April of 2014 when the city, under emergency management, switched its water source from Lake Huron to the toxic Flint River. Families immediately began to see signs of lead poisoning like hair loss, rashes, and cognitive impairments in their children, but city and state officials downplayed the extent of the problem for well over a year.

Under mounting pressure, including a heated congressional hearing last week in which Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy came under fire from Democrat and Republican lawmakers for failing to prevent the disaster, Snyder released a 75-point action plan Monday to deal with the emergency.

Some key tasks include offering “professional support and case management” to children under six years of age with high blood lead levels, adding three additional Child and Adolescent Health Centers in the city, and having trained professionals carry out cognitive and developmental screening throughout Flint.

This MLive article noted that the governor’s goals include replacing 30 water service lines in an effort to contribute to Flint Mayor Karen Weaver’s $55-million Fast Start program. But there are an estimated 15,000 lead service lines in Flint, Laura Bliss recently wrote for CityLab, which reports “only a handful of homes” have been serviced. The mayor has asked the Michigan legislature to release a minimum of $25 million for the first phase of the plan, as well as an additional $220 million for a larger plan that would fund health care and safe water infrastructure. But according to MLive, Flint “is still awaiting state legislators to appropriate $165 million” toward meeting these needs.

And Flint is not the only city that is struggling. An investigation by USA Today released on March 11 revealed that an additional 2,000 water systems across all 50 states have shown signs of “excessive” lead levels in the past four years, impacting an estimated six million people. Roughly 350 of those systems deliver water to schools and day-care centers, while at least 180 systems violated federal regulations by neglecting to alert consumers about high lead levels, the investigation found.

Disturbingly, some of the highest reported lead levels were found in schools and day cares. USA Today’s exposé noted, “A water sample at a Maine elementary school was 42 times higher than the EPA limit of 15 parts per billion [ppb], while a Pennsylvania preschool was 14 times higher, records show. At an elementary school in Ithaca, N.Y., one sample tested this year at a stunning 5,000 ppb of lead, the EPA’s threshold for ‘hazardous waste.’”

Meanwhile, water tests conducted last week in Newark, New Jersey, found that 30 of the district’s 67 schools had lead levels higher than the EPA’s safety threshold of 15 ppb, the New York Times’ editorial board reported on March 19. (The threshold itself, some say, is arbitrary, given that the EPA’s own regulations clearly state that the “maximum contaminant level goal for lead in drinking water [is] zero because lead is a toxic metal that can be harmful to human health even at low exposure levels.”) According to the Times’ editorial, Newark district officials were aware of the problem for well over a decade.

In Chicago, where lead service lines feed an estimated 80 percent of properties according to this article in the Chicago Tribune, “city officials still do little to caution Chicagoans about the potential health risks” of lead levels in the water supply, even though a 2013 federal study found that the city’s existing testing protocols likely miss “high concentrations of lead in drinking water.”

Earlier this month, the Detroit Free Press reported that replacing an estimated six million lead service lines across the country could cost from “a few billion to $50 billion.” Quoting Fitch Ratings, an international ratings agency, the article also noted that the EPA’s latest estimates for improving the entire water sector ran into about $385 billion through the year 2030, although this projection only included a plan for partial replacement of lead pipes, rather than a complete overhaul.