‘Abortion coercion’ ban bill headed to Snyder

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Michigan would criminalize “abortion coercion” under legislation that is headed for the desk of Gov. Rick Snyder.

The Republican-led Senate on Wednesday approved a two-bill package that could lead to prison time for a person who pressures a woman into having an abortion by threatening to stalk or assault her.

The legislation, backed by Right to Life of Michigan but opposed by Democrats, would also create new misdemeanor fines for other types of coercion targeting women who have made it clear they do not want to have an abortion.

“A woman has every right to make a decision under law,” Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said before the vote. “What this bill is about is coercing someone to take a life of a baby against her will.”

Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, said a woman’s decision about her own health care should be freely made, but she criticized the legislation for only addressing one form of reproductive coercion.

“If we’re going to say today that it’s unacceptable today to coerce a woman into having an abortion and terminating a pregnancy, it should be equally unacceptable to force a woman into continuing a pregnancy that may not be in her best interest, that may not be what she needs for her health or mental well-being or for her future,” Warren said.

The bills, previously approved by the House, passed the upper chamber in 26-11 votes. All Senate Democrats voted against the legislation, along with Republican Sen. Tory Rocca of Sterling Heights.

Under the proposal, suspects charged with abortion coercion would be subject to the same penalties as the underlying crimes of stalking or assault, which include felonies carrying significant prison.

Other forms of coercion, defined under an anti-human trafficking section of the state penal code, could lead to fines of up to $5,000 or $10,000. Those threats include any scheme intended to make a woman believe that continuing her pregnancy would result in physical restraint or psychological, reputational or financial harm.

Sen. Judy Emmons, a Sheridan Republican who has helped lead a push to strengthen the state’s human trafficking and sex trade laws, said the abortion coercion legislation complements that ongoing effort.

“We’re dealing with an issue when someone is in a situation where they’ve been trafficked and forced to kill the child living within them — one of the most heinous things you can do to a victim and ultimately a survivor,” she said.

The legislation defines a threat as making two or more statements or engaging in conduct that “would cause a reasonable person to believe that the individual is likely to act in accordance with the statements or course of conduct.”

Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, questioned the language and motivation, saying the bills are “purely political” because the state already has laws to protect against coercive behavior, including aggravated stalking laws and anti-discrimination protections for pregnant women.

“In short, these bills are unnecessary, and unfortunately, the language is dangerously vague,” he said. “They are based on a dangerous rhetoric that women only seek abortions because they are confused, misled or coerced. That is hardly the reality.”


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