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Mich. House Committee Approves Antiabortion-Rights Bills Criminalizing Abortion Coercion

Mich. House Committee Approves Antiabortion-Rights Bills Criminalizing Abortion Coercion

October 2, 2015 — A Michigan House committee on Tuesday approved legislation (HB 4787, HB 4830) that would criminalize coercing a woman to have an abortion, WDET 101.9 reports.

The bills have been sent to the full state House. However, state House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R) has not decided when or whether he will bring the bills up for votes, according to a spokesperson (Neher, WDET 101.9, 9/29).

Background

The measures are based on similar legislation (SB 1156, SB 1157) that passed in the state Senate last year, but the House did not consider the 2014 legislation before the end of the year. State Reps. Amanda Price (R) and Nancy Jenkins (R) revived the bills in July.

The new legislation would define coercion "as threatening to discontinue support, withdraw from a contract or fire a pregnant woman because she does not want to have an abortion." It also would increase penalties for crimes such as assault or stalking when abortion coercion is a factor.

A woman could prove coercion with "any statement or act, including inaction, that would clearly demonstrate to a reasonable person that she is unwilling to comply with a request or demand to have an abortion" (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/24).

Pushback on Coercion Definition

Lawmakers who support abortion rights argued that the bills do not provide a clear definition of coercion. In addition, they proposed an amendment that would prohibit coercing women into giving birth. However, the amendment was rejected in committee.

Rep. Marcia Hovey-Wright (D) said, "We're not dealing with this in a balanced way, that it's only affecting pregnant women who are coerced into having abortion, not the woman [who is] coerced into carrying a pregnancy to term" (WDET 101.9, 9/29).

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan discussed the bill in the context of the broader antiabortion-rights movement, according to MLive. "It continues what we call a war on women -- treating women as second class citizens, as though they cannot make decisions on their own," Shelli Weisberg, legislative director of the ACLU of Michigan, stated on Tuesday. She added, "It's beyond maddening" (Oosting, MLive, 9/29).