December 11, 2014 — Abortion-rights supporters have expressed concern over ambiguous language in two Michigan bills (SB 1156, SB 1157) that would impose criminal penalties on individuals who attempt to coerce a woman into having an abortion, MLive reports.
Specifically, the proposed bills would make it a misdemeanor to attempt to coerce a woman into having an abortion by stalking, assaulting or threatening retaliation against her. Offenders could face up to $5,000 in fines, and men responsible for the pregnancy who are 18 or older could be subject to fines up to $10,000 if the woman is a minor. Judges would also be able to impose jail time, MLive reports.
The bills could reach the state Senate floor later this week or early next week, according to MLive.
According to Genevieve Marnon of Right to Life of Michigan, the measures were "carefully crafted" in response to a 2012 state law that requires abortion providers to screen patients for possible signs of having been coerced. Marnon claimed that physicians have not been screening for coercion as intended under the 2012 law and that the new legislation would "remedy that situation."
Language Could Influence Reproductive Health Decisions, Groups Say
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan in joint written testimony said Michigan already has aggravated stalking and anti-discrimination laws that protect women from such coercion. The organizations suggested that the state instead could implement policies that help prevent unintended pregnancies if lawmakers want to reduce the need for abortion.
Further, Shelli Weisberg, legislative liaison for the ACLU of Michigan, said her organization opposes the measures "not because ... anyone should be coerced," but because the bills' "vague and unclear" wording could influence reproductive health decisions.
Weisberg noted that the new legislation could punish a person for withdrawing from a legally binding contract benefitting a pregnant woman. For example, Weisberg asked whether the law could be applied to a spouse who seeks a divorce upon learning the woman became pregnant through an affair.
Separately, state Sen. Steve Bieda (D) said the measures could cause a "bigger mess," adding that it would only apply to women who are pressured into having abortions and not to those who are pressured to continue a pregnancy (Oosting, MLive, 12/10).