The American Uterus Under Attack – Michigan Edition

Yes, bad things really do happen in threes. And women’s reproductive rights are noUterus diagram exception.

ONE: It’s Bad all over

Under a growing national misogynistic miasma, uterine self-governance is being eroded by the day, and Michigan remains among the worst offenders. The Guttmacher Institute just released a troubling report revealing that from 2011 to 2013 more oppressive laws were enacted across the nation than the entire preceding decade. With this last year continuing the pattern:

Reproductive health and rights were once again the subject of extensive debate in state capitols in 2013. Over the course of the year, 39 states enacted 141 provisions related to reproductive health and rights. Half of these new provisions, 70 in 22 states, sought to restrict access to abortion services.

Abortion restriction graph

The Guttmacher report goes on to explain that, while 31 percent of the nation’s women in the year 2000 lived in states with restrictive laws, it has now risen to 56 percent. These new oppressive laws show a state-to-state consistency:

Forty-five percent of the abortion restrictions enacted over the last three years fall into four categories: targeted restrictions on abortion providers (TRAP), limitations on insurance coverage of abortionbans on abortions at 20 weeks postfertilization (the equivalent of 22 weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period) and limitations on medication abortion. States enacted 93 measures in these four categories from 2011 through 2013, compared with 22 during the previous decade.

Guttmacher reports that Michigan, a state where 54 percent of pregnancies are unintended, (51 per every 1000 women of child-bearing age) the state has a laundry list of retrograde policies including: a pre-Roe abortion ban (in the event Roe is overturned, abortion would automatically become illegal); state-mandated counseling, to include material designed to discourage abortion; parental consent for minors; medical professionals and institutions may refuse to perform abortions; and most recently, the initiated law that requires “rape insurance” for abortion coverage.

Michigan lawmakers have, not only once, but twice attempted (and failed) to sneak-through a transvaginal ultrasound law since 2011. Their hostility towards women’s reproductive rights is well established.

TWO: Michigan reproductive rights advocates disorganized(?)

Piling-on to Michigan’s latest setback for women’s reproductive rights, is what some see as a failure of opposition leadership. They are saying the rape insurance issue was ineptly handled by well-known organizations, including the ACLU and Michigan Planned Parenthood.

Not so fast to criticize. The end of the year timing of the legislature’s decision to approve the initiated law made a 2014 referendum to appeal it logistically impossible.

Earlier this week, groups opposing the oppressive law announced they will not be seeking a spot on the 2014 ballot for a referendum to repeal. As to why they are not currently moving forward on the issue — speculation focused on a lack of coordination among parties to form a coalition. This may be partly accurate, but it’s more likely due to an unfortunate lack of time, not a lack of will.

The nascent coalition surely realized that the process of launching such a huge undertaking would have far exceeded the looming deadline of mid-March. State law says a referendum petition drive has until March of the year following the passage of the targeted legislation.

It should also be noted, it would be very unfair to contrast the 258,000 signatures the right-to-life petitioners got in a short time, because they had a ready-made captive audience. They were (legally) able to go into churches to solicit support and signatures. They had signers lining-up every Sunday.

All is not lost. Even though a referendum is very unlikely, a new initiated law designed to over-ride the rape insurance law is very doable. The petition signature requirement is slightly higher, and the GOP-led legislature would most certainly put it on the ballot instead of passing it as they did the rape law. Michigan voters would likely pass such a law by a wide margin.

Our final reproductive rights story making the news is a constitutional one to be decided by the Supreme Court — because nothing thrills the ladies more than having dusty old guys in robes interfering with their reproductive autonomy.

THREE: Supreme Court poised to abolish buffer zones around clinics

Earlier this week the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a case involving the constitutionality of “buffer zones” around abortion clinics. In McCullen v. Coakley, the plaintiff’s attorney argued that the Massachusetts law providing a 35 foot zone to keep protestors away from clinic doors is discriminatory because the law makes an exemption for employees to pass. The suit, brought by right-to-life activist Eleanor McCullen, additionally asserts that the buffer law doesn’t provide for any alternative means to get her message across to potential abortion seekers.

Massachusetts countered with the fact that the buffer zone prevents all protestors from accessing the zone, including pro-choice activists. They argued that the state originally had in place a law similar to one in Colorado, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2000, (albeit, by a more moderate court at that time). The Colorado law has a 100 foot buffer specifically for protests, and an 8 foot zone around individuals within the protected area — meaning no one may approach a women to “educate” or “counsel” her. Massachusetts found that too difficult to enforce, so they opted for a simpler version that does not take sides on the issue, and is enforceable.

An ironic twist — the U.S. Supreme Court itself has a buffer zone. On June 13, 2013, the current court issued “Regulation Seven” to prohibit any form of protest “within the Supreme Court building and grounds”, pushing protestors out on to the public sidewalk.

There is a very real chance these buffer zones will be found unconstitutional — first, because the make-up of the court has veered to the right since the 2000 Colorado decision, and more importantly, due to this court’s tendency to fall on the side of free speech — including that of corporations.

SCOTUSblog reports that the hearing was surprisingly low-key, with only a handful of protestors on the sidewalk. Justice Elena Kagan, who is expected to support buffers, surprised the court by questioning the size of the zones, implying they are too large. Another curious occurrence was the behavior of the chief justice. SCOTUSblog put it this way:

Indeed, Chief Justice John Roberts, who is normally an active participant, was uncharacteristically silent throughout the oral argument…How will the Court ultimately rule in McCullen?  Although the Chief Justice failed to tip his hand, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which he would vote to uphold the law.

Of course, in retrospect, we can say the same for the Affordable Care Act decision — where Justice Roberts stunned everyone, possibly including himself.

We shall see…

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

Disclosure: This writer was a member of the coalition to repeal the emergency manager law — Stand Up for Democracy.

Updated Jan. 20, 2012 to indicate that the unintended pregnancy rate in Michigan is 51 for every 1000 women in the                                                       state of child-bearing age.




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