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Medically Unnecessary Physician Reporting Bill Introduced in Michigan

Nina Liss-Schultz

Lawmakers in Michigan this month introduced a bill that abortion-access advocates and providers say would unnecessarily increase physicians' reporting requirements and potentially open the floodgates for harassment of providers in the state.

Lawmakers in Michigan this month introduced a bill that abortion-access advocates and providers say would unnecessarily increase physicians’ reporting requirements and potentially open the floodgates for harassment of providers in the state.

Michigan law currently requires that abortion providers report specific information about each abortion they perform to the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. The extensive state-mandated survey includes a series of personal questions about the age, race, and marital status of the patient, along with questions about the number of previous pregnancies the patient has had, the weight of the embryo or fetus, and “whether the fetus showed evidence of life when separated, expelled, or removed from the individual.”

Providers are also required to report physical complications resulting from the abortion.

The list of complications providers must report, as directed by state law, currently includes “infection, hemorrhage, cervical laceration, or perforation of the uterus.”

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The bill introduced this month, SB 27, would add “allergic response” and “anesthesia-related complications” to the list of complications that abortion providers must report to the state.

The bill would also allow Michigan residents to send notices to both abortion providers and state officials alleging that a provider performed an abortion resulting in a complication.

“This bill is designed to increase the overall number of abortion-related complications,” said ACLU of Michigan Legislative Director Shelli Weisberg. “By requiring the reporting of these minor things, anti-abortion people will be able to say, ‘Look at all these complications from abortion.’”

Right to Life of Michigan, an anti-choice group, has acknowledged as much. In a description of a 2014 bill identical to the one proposed this year, Right to Life alleged that abortion doctors are not following current reporting laws, evidenced by the fact that “the reported rate of complications is 0.008 percent.”

Since, according to Right to Life, this low rate can’t be correct, the legislation proposed is meant to “remedy the unrealistically low complication rates being reported.”

In its Model Legislation & Policy Guide for the 2015 Legislative Year, Americans United for Life, a national anti-choice organization that writes model legislation to be implemented across the country, makes a similar argument for increased abortion reporting requirements:

Masked by inaccurate and incomplete data on abortion’s safety and efficacy, the true dangers of the abortion procedure remain under-reported and all too often ignored. How many women have died from botched abortions? How many women continue to suffer in silence from long-term abortion complications? How many abortions are actually performed in the United States each year? The answers are that we simply do not know.

But these anti-choice tactics might not deliver the desired results. Requiring physicians to report allergic reactions and complications related to anesthesia won’t significantly increase the number of reports filed by providers, says Amber Truehart, a family planning fellow at the University of Chicago.

That’s because providers typically administer local, not general, anesthesia, making complications during the procedure unlikely; the majority of allergic reactions are caused by general anesthesia, she said.

Allergic reactions and anesthesia complications are “very rare and very minor,” Truehart told Rewire.

“These politicians think adding allergic reaction and anesthesia complication will rack up the number of complications reported, and they don’t know it won’t,” she said. “This just speaks to the fact that they don’t understand the procedure.”

For Weisberg and Truehart, the issue isn’t with reporting requirements. Physicians already track and record information about the abortions they perform. And organizations use the data gathered by states, aggregated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to analyze and describe abortion in the United States.

“The problem,” said Weisberg, is that these requirements “should be based on the medical standards doctors,” not those of legislators. “All this could do is raise the number of complications reports without saying anything substantial about the safety of the procedure.”

Allowing anyone to file reports with the state claiming complications will “open it up for the harassment of providers,” said Truehart. “Would that be a barrier for women seeking care?”

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