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Abortion coercion bills clear Michigan Senate

Dec 12, 2014

Inside the Michigan Senate.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Republican-led Michigan Senate has voted to make it a crime to coerce a woman to have an abortion against her will.

The legislation would prohibit stalking or assaulting a pregnant woman or anyone else with the intent to force an abortion against her wishes. After learning that a woman does not want an abortion, a person also could not threaten to cut off legally required financial support or withdraw from a contract with her.

The punishment for doing so would be a misdemeanor charge and fine, as outlined by Senate Bill No. 1156:

The person guilty of [committing these violations] would receive a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000, unless the person is the father or putative father of the unborn child, the pregnant individual is less than 18 years of age at the time of the violation, and the person is 18 years or older at the time of the violation, in which case the person is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000.

A 2012 state law requires abortion clinics to screen patients for coercion, but lawmakers' attempt at the time to criminalize coercive abortions was removed from the legislation before Gov. Rick Snyder signed it.

Anti-abortion advocates state these bills are a step towards promoting women's rights. According to Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, anyone voting against the bills should be ashamed of themselves "because [they are] supporting the pimps and human traffickers who victimize women in the state every day."

Conversely, pro-abortion rights supporters fear that the definition of coercion under these bills is too vague and that existing stalking and assault crime laws protect women against being coerced. The Detroit Free Press explains the response of Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor:

Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, said the bills aren't needed because current abortion laws require providers to carefully screen women seeking abortions to ensure they haven't been coerced into getting the procedure. She offered an amendment – which failed – that would have made it a crime to coerce a woman to keep a pregnancy against her will.

"This is an answer seeking a question. It's already the law in Michigan," she said. "And this legislation is so vague in its definition of coercion. Its lack of clarity stands to have a number of unintended consequences for families as they work through very difficult decisions."

The bills next go to the GOP-controlled House for consideration in the waning days of the legislative session.

– Ari Sandberg, Michigan Radio Newsroom