Roundups Law and Policy

Legislative Lowlights: Michigan Moves to Make Telemedicine Abortion Ban Permanent

Brie Shea

If the attempt to make the telemedicine abortion ban permanent fails, it would expire at the end of the year.

Rewire.News tracks anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ legislation as it works its way through state legislatures. Here’s an overview of the bills we’re watching.

An Oklahoma lawmaker wants to criminalize abortion, a Republican in Michigan wants to force trans people in prison to pay for their own health care, and Ohio moves closer to denying rights to LGBTQ couples and pregnant people.

Michigan

On Thursday, the Michigan State Senate passed SB 1198, which would make permanent a 2012 telemedicine ban on prescribing medication abortion. The bill would prohibit physicians from prescribing a medical abortion for a pregnant patient unless the physician first performs a physical examination of the patient. Doctors would also be prohibited from diagnosing pregnancy or the gestational age of a pregnancy via webcam or similar technology. The bill now heads to the state house for consideration. If it passes, the telemedicine abortion ban would become permanent. If it fails, the ban would expire at the end of the year—providing pregnant people living in rural areas of the state increased access to reproductive health-care services. But with Republicans controlling the Michigan state house—as well as the governorship for another month—it’s not looking good.

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Michigan state Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain) earlier in the week introduced HB 6524, which would require transgender inmates who receive gender reassignment surgery to pay for the entire cost of their treatment. Last year, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) revised its policy to allow trans prisoners to start hormone therapy and also be considered for gender reassignment surgery. Before the new policy was implemented, only trans prisoners who were already prescribed hormones and scheduled for surgery prior to being incarcerated could receive such treatment. Hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery are necessary medical treatments for trans folks who may experience or are diagnosed with gender dysphoria. According to Lambda Legal, “[a]ll seven Circuit Courts that have addressed gender dysphoria have recognized it as a serious medical condition.” MDOC policy states that all prisoners in their facilities should have access to medically necessary health services. Prisoners who receive nonemergency medical, dental, or optometric services at their request are responsible for a copayment fee—typically $5 per visit— to the Department of Corrections. HB 6524 states that a “prisoner who receives gender reassignment surgery at his or her request must cover the entire cost of the treatment.” This would include not only the surgery itself—which costs thousands of dollars—but also monthly $50-$70 hormone treatments and any required counseling sessions, doctors visits, and lab tests.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma’s 2019 legislative session doesn’t start until February, but one anti-choice lawmaker already has legislation drafted in hopes of criminalizing abortion. On Thursday, state Sen. Joseph Silk (R-Broken Bow) prefiled SB 13, the Abolition of Abortion in Oklahoma Act. The bill would ban legal abortion in the state of Oklahoma by making it a felony crime punishable by life imprisonment. The bill would repeal all state laws regulating abortion and redefine “homicide” to include “acts which cause the death of an unborn child committed during an abortion.” If passed, all parties involved in an abortion (physicians, nurses, the pregnant person, etc.) could potentially face murder charges.

State Sen. Silk introduced a similar measure last year but it never got a hearing. If this bill sounds familiar, it’s because Ohio recently made headlines for a similar bill that’s been sitting in their legislature since March (though while Ohio’s bill to criminalize abortion hasn’t moved since it was introduced, its six-week abortion ban might actually pass—more on that later). Kentucky and Texas had similar abortion abolition bills during their last legislative sessions—neither made any progress. In a provision nearly identical to Texas’ version, Oklahoma’s bill would also direct the state attorney general to direct state agencies to enforce the law regardless of any contrary or conflicting federal statutes, regulations, executive orders, or court decisions. These types of bills are clearly unconstitutional. But that’s the point. Expect to see more of the same in 2019.

Ohio

This week, the state Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on the so-called Pastor Protection Act, which would allow undefined “religious societies” to discriminate against LGBTQ couples. Proponents of the bill claim it would prohibit the state from requiring ministers to perform a marriage that goes against their religious belief. But the First Amendment and the Ohio State Constitution already protect that right. HB 36, which passed the state house in June, goes further and undermines civil rights laws by allowing “religious societies” to deny the use of their buildings and property for any marriage ceremony that goes against their religious beliefs. As Gary Daniels from the ACLU of Ohio testified Thursday:

HB 36 allows churches to forbid the Jewish couple marrying in their banquet hall that is otherwise open to all comers. It puts the brakes on the wedding of an elderly gay couple in a church-owned nursing home. If so desired, HB 36 prevents a ceremony at a church-run homeless shelter. Or a Catholic-owned hospital serving the terminally ill. As well as some assisted living facilities.

As of today, no vote has been scheduled. If it passes out of committee, it goes to the state senate floor for a vote.

On Wednesday, the unconstitutional heartbeat abortion ban continued its journey through the Ohio state legislature. The bill, which passed the house earlier this month, was referred to the state Senate Health, Human Services, and Medicaid Committee. Except in cases of a medical emergency, HB 258 would make it a felony for providers to perform an abortion without first determining whether there is a detectable fetal heartbeat. If a fetal heartbeat is detected—which can occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy—doctors would be prohibited from performing an abortion. If passed, Gov. Kasich has indicated he’ll veto it—again. But the GOP-controlled legislature might have enough votes to override it. As of today, no hearings are scheduled, but expect some activity in the next week or two as the Ohio legislature is scheduled to adjourn at the end of December.

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