Restricting abortion

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Pro-choice advocates are finding themselves on the outside looking in as a Michigan Legislature, dominated by anti-abortion forces, chips away at reproductive rights.

"I don’t think the attack has ever been as voracious as it is know," observes Wendy Wagenheim, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

Evidence of the Legislature’s pro-life momentum can be found in the passage last week of the Infant Protection Act, a bill similar to 1996 legislation that attempted to outlaw "partial-birth abortions."

That previous legislation was ruled unconstitutional by U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Rosen. Wagenheim predicted that the new legislation, which is expected to be signed into law by Gov. John Engler, will meet a similar fate.

"The intent of this bill is not to prohibit a particular procedure as Right to Life claims," says Wagenheim. "It is clearly an attempt to prohibit all abortions."

The bill, which passed the Senate on a 32-8 vote and was approved 70-37 in the House, makes it a felony for a doctor to kill a fetus that has been partially removed from a woman’s body and is moving, breathing or has a detectable heartbeat. Physicians found guilty under the law face a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Opponents criticized the bill as overly broad and vague, with defects even more egregious than those in the previous legislation already struck down by the court.

Wagenheim told a legislative hearing: "If a procedure goes awry, a doctor must do what is necessary to protect both the health and life of his patient and should be able to do this without wondering if he/she faces a felony charge. …"

"The taxpayers of Michigan have paid once already for this Legislature’s errors," says Wagenheim, referring to court costs incurred by the state in its attempts to defend the previous legislation. "Now they are going to have to pay again."

Other battles loom.

At least six pieces of legislation sponsored by anti-abortion legislators have been introduced, with hearings expected in the fall. Particularly controversial is a three-bill package that attempts to eliminate elective abortions as a standard benefit covered in health care plans. Those wanting such coverage would be required to pay for separate policy riders.

"This new package of bills, modeled after an exiting law in Missouri, will impact the whole state, protecting not just taxpayers’ conscience rights, but all pro-life purchasers of health care," says state Sen. Dave Jaye, R-Washington Twp., one sponsor of the legislation.

Other bills attempt to limit abortions by placing stringent requirements on clinics where abortions are performed and expanding reporting procedures for doctors.

Wagenheim has little hope any of the bills can be stopped without help from the courts.

"There are 68 Right to Life-endorsed legislators (out of 110) in the House and 28 of 38 in the Senate. They can do whatever they want, and they have a governor who will not veto their legislation."

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