Debate heats up over Michigan GOP plan to ban 'dismemberment' abortion

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Michigan State Rep. Pamela Hornberger, R-Chesterfield Township

Lansing — A bid to prohibit "dismemberment abortions" led to heated debate in a Michigan House committee Wednesday, as Planned Parenthood squared off against pro-life groups supporting the bills.

The Republican sponsors, Reps. Lynn Afendoulis and Pamela Hornberger, said the legislation would prohibit a “barbaric method” of abortion, but a Planned Parenthood representative argued it would criminalize a procedure “that is standard of care” for second-term abortions.

The legislation is not about a woman’s right to choose or a child’s right to live, Afendoulis said, but about a specific procedure. 

“This practice is barbaric, it is agonizing, it is outrageous and it must stop,” said Afendoulis, R-Grand Rapids Township.

Democratic Detroit Reps. Cynthia Johnson and LaTanya Garrett questioned several witnesses who spoke Wednesday during the more than hour-long meeting. 

"I find it very interesting that we want our health care providers to give us input on our daily health routines but we want to restrict their advice when it comes to best practices," Garrett said.

The bills would amend the state’s partial-birth abortion ban to prohibit health professionals from removing the limbs or head of a living fetus during an abortion, unless it was an abortion that used suction. Called a dilation and evacuation abortion, or D&E, the abortion procedure is often used between 13 and 24 weeks of pregnancy.

The legislation would apply the same penalties for the procedure as those that apply to partial-birth abortions: A two-year felony and or a fine of $50,000. The penalties would apply to those performing the abortion, not the mother, and the legislation would make an exception for instances in which the mother’s life is at risk.

The legislation is expected to get a vote in committee as early as next week, said Rep. Kathy Crawford, chairwoman for the Families, Children and Seniors Committee.

“I don’t see any reason for this bill not to move forward,” the Novi Republican said.

At a Planned Parenthood of Michigan conference last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she would veto any new anti-abortion legislation that reaches her desk.

On Wednesday, Whitmer's spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said the governor believes in protecting "women’s legal and constitutional right to control their bodies."

"Politicians are not doctors, and they should not be dictating medical care," Brown said. "The governor is committed to standing up for women and turning Michigan into a model state for equality.”

The bill is an “orchestrated national strategy by anti-abortion politicians” to limit women’s access to abortion, said Amanda West of Planned Parenthood of Michigan. She said the legislation and others like it across the country are an attempt to pass a law that could be challenged up to the U.S. Supreme Court and potentially overturn Roe v. Wade.

West also challenged the bill’s referral to the Families, Children and Seniors Committee rather than the House’s Health Policy Committee. Lawmakers had to choose between “ideologues from Right to Life” and “doctors and medical professional," she said.

“A women’s health, not politics, should guide important medical decisions at every point in pregnancy,” West said, who joined in opposition by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and a doctor with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. 

Pro-life obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Donna Harrison brought a sopher clamp and a plastic baby to demonstrate how the dismemberment and evacuation procedure is performed. She argued that banning D&E abortions was not equivalent to outlawing all abortions.

“What this bill bans is tearing apart living human beings in the womb,” Harrison said. “I would encourage you as an act of compassion and mercy to ban this procedure.”

Women have alternative abortion procedures available to them other than a D&E, Hornberger said, but it’s used more commonly because its a “much swifter procedure than medically-induced abortion.” The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported 1,777 D&E abortions in Michigan 2017, said Hornberger of Chesterfield Township.

“The method is not recognized as humane in any culture, yet it has become commonplace in Michigan and across the United States,” she said.       

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