House Democratic Caucus introduces Reproductive Health Care Act to improve access to abortion

Sunday, November 3, 2019 - 1:46pm

Last Tuesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other lawmakers in the Michigan House Democratic Caucus introduced the Reproductive Health Care Act (RHA).

Last Tuesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other lawmakers in the Michigan House Democratic Caucus introduced the Reproductive Health Care Act (RHA). Buy this photo
Annie Klus/Daily

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other lawmakers in the Michigan House Democratic Caucus introduced the Reproductive Health Care Act, a plan to revoke existing laws which restrict or bar access to abortion, last Tuesday.

Abortion is currently legal through the first 24 weeks of pregnancy in the state of Michigan, though there are a number of restrictions regarding access to abortion that the RHA aims to dissolve. Among the legislation these lawmakers hope to repeal is a 1931 Michigan law prohibiting abortion. Since the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade became law, which recognizes the right to abortion as a constitutional right, federal law has trumped this state law. However, if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, abortion would again be banned statewide.  

Other laws the RHA seeks to repeal include those which require a 24-hour waiting period after requesting an abortion, parental consent for minors seeking abortions and a ban on private insurance coverage for these procedures. The act also aims to get rid of barriers for state and federal funding for reproductive health care providers and access to medical abortion via telemedicine, which allows health care providers to consult patients remotely. 

The movement against abortion is also active in Michigan, with two anti-abortion petitions currently circulating. The first, organized by anti-abortion group Right to Life of Michigan, seeks to ban the dilation and evacuation procedure unless the pregnant person’s life is at risk. The procedure involves dilating the cervix and removing the fetus with forceps and can result in dismemberment of the fetus. The second petition, advocated by the Michigan Heartbeat Coalition, advocates banning abortions after cardiac activity is detected, which can be as early as five-weeks gestation. Both petitions seek to enact legislation previously vetoed by Whitmer.

On Tuesday, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued a statement in support of the RHA plan.

“Women’s reproductive rights and access to quality health care are under attack across the country,” the statement reads. “Now, more than ever, we must take concrete steps to ensure the rights of all women are protected under the law.” 

Some abortion rights activists have expressed concern that the bills outlined in the RHA, many of which would require a two thirds majority, are unlikely to pass in a Republican controlled legislature

Public Policy senior Brianna Wells, co-president of the abortion rights student organization Students for Choice at the University of Michigan, supports the RHA but shared concerns regarding its longevity.

“I think it’s really important to have something that will give people the right to choose in the case that Roe v. Wade is overturned, which is probably likely given the people on the Supreme Court right now,” Wells said. “I don’t know how good of a chance the bill has of being passed, and even if it were to be passed, it just worries me that the next time the legislature is unfriendly to something like this it could just be gutted. So, while I totally support the bill(s), I think that eventually I would like to see something more permanent put into place, like a constitutional amendment to Michigan’s constitution or something like that.”

In a press conference on Tuesday, Whitmer addressed this concern, alluding to allegations of illegal gerrymandering, but maintained that the plan was nonetheless important. 

“We are all acutely aware of how gerrymandered this legislature is and that it’s an uphill battle, but it doesn’t mean you don’t fight it,” Whitmer said.

Education junior Justin Cadarette, a member of the anti-abortion student organization Students for Life, opposes any change to the current laws restricting access to abortion in Michigan. 

“All of those laws that are currently in place are really good for making sure if a woman does really feels like she needs to have an abortion … it makes sure she has all the time possible and all the information necessary to really make a super informed decision and very consciously deal with the consequences if she does carry out the abortion,” Cadarette said. 

He highlighted parental consent as one important requirement that should not change.

“Especially with minors, definitely their parents need to know what’s going on with their lives,” Cadarette said. “You need to get parental consent to go to the dentist, go to the doctor, even to get ibuprofen from your high school. So definitely parents should know that their child wants to get a really serious medical procedure done that could have potentially bad consequences.”

Wells, on the other hand, felt repealing laws such as the 24-hour waiting period sends an important message about bodily autonomy.

“I think that, other than (the waiting period) just being an unnecessary barrier to people trying to seek an abortion, I think (repealing) it sends the message that we trust individuals enough to make decisions about their own bodies,” Wells said. “We don’t have to put this waiting period on it because I think that assumes that if you get people to think about it long enough, they won’t want to have an abortion anymore, and I think that’s really condescending.”