GOP lawmaker floats new abortion ban with 10-year penalty; Whitmer calls it 'scary'

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — A Republican lawmaker has introduced a bill prohibiting abortion at all stages of pregnancy that would make the provision of an abortion a 10-year felony carrying an up to $100,000 fine.

The bill, which would make an exception to save the life of a mother, would replace the state's more than century-old abortion ban, which the bill's sponsor, Rep. Steve Carra of Three Rivers, said was unlikely to stand up against pending court challenges. 

Even if it were adopted by both chambers, Carra's bill is unlikely to survive an all-but inevitable veto from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who called the legislation "disturbing,"  "unsettling" and "infuriating" during a Wednesday appearance on NBC.

State of MI Rep. Steve Carra addresses the crowd.

"It's going to be devastating for women, for our economy, for our ability to design our lives and make our own decisions," the Democratic governor said. "And so this is a really scary reminder of how high these stakes are."

Carra argued the proposed Protection at Conception Act will make the state's 1931 abortion ban "enforceable" should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn the landmark 1973 Roe decision in the coming days and return the decision on abortion to the states.

"This is the most comprehensive pro-life legislation introduced in Michigan and will be legally enforceable," Carra said in a statement Wednesday. 

Michigan House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, has not reviewed the bill but will let the House Judiciary Committee "review it and make a recommendation like normal," said Gideon D'Assandro, a spokesman for Wentworth. 

Right to Life of Michigan did not immediately responded to a request for comment on the legislation.

In the past, Right to Life of Michigan has defended the existing state law as ready to take full effect in the event Roe is overturned, but some prosecutors have questioned whether changes need to be made to clarify elements of the largely dormant law. A Court of Claims judge has stopped potential enforcement of the 1931 law with a preliminary injunction.

Carra's bill states that it would not criminalize a mother who undergoes an abortion procedure, nor would it ban contraceptives if administered "before the time when a pregnancy could be determined through conventional medical testing."

But the act hits the person performing or attempting to perform an abortion with a 10-year felony, and those manufacturing, selling or distributing abortifacient drugs for the purpose of an abortion with an up to 20-year felony.

The current law also deems the act of providing an abortion a felony, but the selling of drugs to induce an abortion is considered a misdemeanor.

Carra's introduction of the bill and his comments Wednesday appear to undermine arguments his own chamber has made in legal filings about the legal relevance and enforceability of Michigan's current abortion ban.

The GOP-led Michigan Legislature earlier this month intervened as a defendant in a Court of Claims case filed by Planned Parenthood against Attorney General Dana Nessel. The Legislature defended the 1931 law in its filing, pushing back against Planned Parenthood's effort to throw out the abortion ban on the argument that there is a right to abortion in the state constitution that overrules any state law. 

Judge Elizabeth Gleicher ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood in May — before the Legislature's intervention — and issued a preliminary injunction stopping the enforcement of the 1931 law should Roe be overturned. The state legislature is challenging the decision at the Court of Claims level while Right to Life of Michigan and the Michigan Catholic Conference are challenging the decision in the Court of Appeals

In her May decision, Gleicher ruled Planned Parenthood was likely to succeed on its claim that there was a right to abortion in the state constitution, but Carra on Wednesday said her decision deemed the state's abortion ban was "draconian."

"Although the Legislature is doing its best to defend this law, it will most likely result in a defeat for the pro-life movement, and it is time to begin exploring other avenues to protect the sanctity of human life," Carra wrote in a press release Wednesday. 

Separately, Whitmer has filed suit in Oakland County Circuit Court also seeking a ruling establishing that there is a right to abortion in the state constitution. She also submitted an executive message to the Michigan Supreme Court, asking the justices to immediately rule in her case rather than allow the issue to be decided and appealed through the lower courts first. 

Democratic lawmakers have introduced their own legislation in anticipation of the fall of Roe, including the Michigan Reproductive Health Act and bills that would repeal the 1931 abortion ban. The bills have yet to receive hearings in the GOP-led Legislature. 

Additionally, the Reproductive Freedom for All ballot committee is collecting signatures for a wide-ranging ballot initiative that would enshrine abortion in the state constitution.