Snyder signs new ‘abortion coercion’ penalties into law

The Detroit News

Lansing – Michigan would criminalize “abortion coercion” under two bills that Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law, the governor’s office said Thursday.

The Republican-controlled House and Senate passed legislation 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.

The governor’s office disclosed the bill signings as part of 23 pieces of legislation Snyder signed into law and issued no statement about the two-bill package.

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.

Supporters argued the new penalties don’t impinge on women’s right to choose an abortion and may discourage those looking to coerce a woman into taking the life of a baby against her will. They also complement new state law that attempt to crack down on human trafficking and the sex trade.

Critics argued the state already has laws to protect against coercive behavior, including aggravated stalking laws and anti-discrimination protections for pregnant women. They also said the legislation only addressed one form of reproductive coercion, arguing it should be unacceptable to force a woman to continue a pregnancy that may not be be in her best interests of health or mental well-being.

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.”