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Reproductive Health Act bills get first committee hearing in Michigan House

 Inside a patient room at Northland Family Planning
Paulette Parker
Michigan Radio
Inside a patient room at Northland Family Planning

Michigan legislation to repeal several abortion-related regulations got its first committee hearing today.

Among other things, the 11-bill package would target the state’s ban on Medicaid covering abortion care, its 24-hour waiting period, and requirements that patients receive certain information — like materials describing the fetal growth process.

During Thursday’s House Health Policy Committee hearing, Planned Parenthood of Michigan Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sarah Wallett described the discomfort that can cause for patients who want to have children but whose pregnancies are not viable.

Wallett said the state’s requirements aren’t medically necessary and unfairly target abortion care providers.

“I have never once been able to provide care to my patients that is solely focused on them. Because with every patient, I have to make sure I’m following state laws that cause my patients harm,” Wallett said.

On the other side of the equation, opponents to the new Reproductive Health Act legislation argue steps like the 24-hour waiting period or explanations of the procedure and potential complications provide patients with informed consent.

“All of these measures you’re trying to repeal were enacted for the protection of the health and safety of women undergoing abortion in our state. While these may inconvenience the abortion provider, they do serve a purpose in allowing the public to know when a clinic is not safe,” Dr. Catherine Stark, an Oakland County-based OBGYN, told the committee.

Legislation supporters defended the bills, saying Michigan’s laws around informed consent for abortion care are far more restrictive than for any other type of health care in the state.

Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment last year guaranteeing a right to abortion in the state.

But now abortion-rights supporters say restrictions remain on the books that can limit abortion access -- for example, a requirement that abortion clinics comply with building regulations for freestanding surgical outpatient facilities.

Abortion-rights supporters have blamed that requirement for making expanding abortion access into rural areas of the state cost-prohibitive.

During Thursday’s hearing, state Representative Curt VanderWall (R-Ludington) questioned why that provision needs to be removed.

“We have strived to make sure that there’s protections and there’s policy put in place that all people are ensured that the facilities that they’re at are licensed, the facilities that they’re at are inspected, the facilities that are built are built to standards that, if there is an emergency, a stretcher or a gurney can be brought in,” VanderWall said.

But Dr. Halley Crissman, an OBGYN, clarified abortions do not involve surgery in the sense of any incisions being made. She said abortion care is similar to miscarriage care that takes place in a clinical setting rather than a surgery center.

Crissman argued even with a repeal of that provision in the state’s health code, there’d still be oversight.

“Just because a health care facility is not an ambulatory surgical center doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need to meet cleanliness standards, that the staff don’t have to be licensed or trained, or that there’s no regulation,” Crissman told the committee during the last thirty minutes of the hour-and-a-half-long meeting.

It adjourned without voting the legislation out, meaning there’s potentially more discussion before it comes to the full House floor.

While a concrete timeline is up in the air, the Reproductive Health Act is among the major goals Governor Gretchen Whitmer called on the Legislature to pass by the end of the year.

The bills were introduced last week.

Colin Jackson | MPRN