Michigan state lawmakers voted Tuesday to ban a relatively common second-trimester abortion procedure, adding to the growing list of anti-abortion bills passing in Republican-controlled state legislatures.
Michigan’s House and Senate both voted along party lines on legislation to ban dilation and evacuation procedures, commonly known as D&Es, and to make it a felony for a physician to perform them except to save a woman’s life. The bills define the procedure as “dismemberment abortion,” an anti-abortion term referring to what doctors call one of the most medically safe abortion methods.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) said Tuesday that she will immediately veto the legislation once it reaches her desk.
“I think that these are decisions that should be made between a woman and her doctor,” Whitmer told reporters. “I’ve always supported a woman’s autonomy and freedom to make her own choices, and that should be no surprise to anyone in this town.”
During a D&E, doctors dilate the patient’s cervix and remove the fetus with suction and medical tools like forceps. The procedure is commonly used in the second trimester of pregnancy, usually after about 13 weeks of gestation. Nearly 1,800 of the almost 26,600 abortions reported to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in 2017 were D&E procedures, according to the Detroit News. Abortions in the first trimester are more common than in the second trimester.
Anti-abortion activists say the D&E procedure is cruel. But reproductive rights advocates say banning D&Es is an unconstitutional attempt to take away legal abortion rights guaranteed under Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling from 1973.
In a letter obtained by Michigan Advance, the Michigan State Medical Society opposed the proposed state legislation, saying it would “hinder physician discretion to act within the standards of good medical practice and in the best interest of the patient.” The MSMS represents more than 15,000 physicians in the state.
MSMS President Dr. Betty Chu wrote that the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says the D&E procedure is “evidence-based and medically preferred because it results in the fewest complications for women compared to alternative procedures,” according to the Advance.
Expecting Whitmer’s veto, Michigan Right to Life said it will create a petition drive for a citizen-led legislative initiative to bypass the governor and get the legislation passed. According to the Detroit Free Press, the anti-abortion lobbying group has gotten four bills passed into law this way in the last 32 years.
Those laws include banning public funds from paying for abortions for welfare recipients (1987), requiring parental consent before a minor receives an abortion (1990), defining a legal birth (2004), and requiring women to purchase an additional rider on their health insurance for abortion coverage (2013).
The only other states that have specific bans in effect on D&E procedures are Mississippi and West Virginia, with bans in eight other states on hold due to legal challenges. Michigan already had a ban on “partial-birth” abortions, medically known as “dilation and extraction,” a procedure in which doctors dilate the patient’s cervix and pull the fetus out intact through the birth canal, according to NPR.
“I can stand here and call out the hypocrisy of predominantly male legislators, most of whom, with zero medical background, somehow decided when they take office that they are medical experts and experts of women’s bodies and health care,” state Sen. Erika Geiss (D) said during the Senate vote on Tuesday.
“Instead of regulating the things that government should be regulating, the focus on regulating and criminalizing medical decisions and women’s health care is itself criminal.”
The vote comes on the heels of several other states restricting abortion access, including Alabama’s ongoing attempt to ban abortion with almost no exceptions. Georgia became the fourth state this year to pass a ban on abortion at six weeks of pregnancy, and a federal judge blocked a similar Kentucky bill earlier this year.
Many of these bills are being challenged in court, but anti-choice advocates and Republicans hope that the conservative-leaning Supreme Court will eventually overturn Roe v. Wade.
“We’ve seen what happens when politicians interfere in these deeply personal medical decisions,” ACLU Michigan policy strategist Merissa Kovach said in a statement. “In states that have passed other abortion bans, some women and their families have been put into horrific situations ― needing to end a pregnancy, but unable to do so.”
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