LANSING (WWJ/AP) – A majority of lawmakers in the Michigan Legislature have been endorsed by the state’s Right to Life organization.
That means it’s likely more anti-abortion legislation will be taken up by state lawmakers this year.
“We have a strong contingent of pro-life legislators seated right now in both chambers,” said Ed Rivet, legislative director for the state’s Right to Life organization. “There are more bills introduced that we have an interest in than we’ve ever had before.”
Lawmakers approved a state-level ban on a procedure opponents call “partial birth” abortion late last year. Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill, although he’s made it clear he wants the Legislature to focus on issues related to improving the state’s economy and state government budget.
Among the pending measures are bills that would create a “Choose Life” license plate and legislation that would generally prohibit doctors from performing abortions after a woman’s twentieth week of pregnancy.
Pro-abortion rights groups say the measures are part of a national attempt to chip away at Roe v. Wade, the federal court decision that makes abortion legal.
“We see a lot of these bills session after session after session,” said Sarah Scranton of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan. “This time around we are seeing them move more than we have in the past, which certainly worries us.”
Scranton said lawmakers should focus on measures to help prevent unintended pregnancies instead.
The anti-abortion proposals’ success will hinge on how the Republican-led Legislature and GOP Gov. Snyder balance social issues with their stated top priorities – the state budget and improving the state’s jobs climate.
Spokespeople for Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville and House Speaker Jase Bolger each said there’s time for lawmakers to debate some social issues while staying focused on economic issues. Snyder also is geared toward economy-related measures, but governor’s spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said he will evaluate abortion-related bills as they move through the legislative process.
Snyder in October signed a state-level ban on a late-term abortion procedure opponents call “partial birth” abortion. Critics said the state-level ban was not needed because the procedure already is banned in federal law. But supporters of the state ban say it’s necessary in case the federal law changes and to make it easier to prosecute potential cases in Michigan.
Now many lawmakers say they’re prepared to take up more anti-abortion proposals.
“I sense a lot of interest in getting this done,” said Rep. Eileen Kowall, a Republican from Oakland County’s White Lake Township and sponsor of the proposal that would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks, with an exemption for when the mother’s life is at risk. “This is one small measure to do the right thing towards human decency.”
Kowall’s legislation, modeled after laws approved in a handful of other states the past two years, is based on the premise that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks. Opponents dispute that claim and also say the proposals are a departure from Roe v. Wade, which lets states limit abortions in cases where there’s a viable chance the fetus could survive outside of the womb. That’s generally considered to be 22 and 24 weeks.
A measure pending in the Senate would tie into federal health reforms that call on states to set up health insurance exchanges for individuals and small businesses to buy health coverage. The Michigan measure would prohibit a health plan offered through the exchange from covering elective abortions. It’s not yet known if Michigan will set up such an exchange, because some lawmakers – particularly in the House – are waiting to see what happens with legal challenges opposing the federal health plan.
The Senate has approved bills dealing with the handling of fetal remains that result from an abortion. The bills are pending in the House.
Other bills are aimed at screening before an abortion to make sure a pregnant woman isn’t being forced or coerced to have the abortion against her will. Separate bills are aimed at requiring that a woman seeking an abortion is told she has an option to view an active ultrasound image and hear the fetus’ heartbeat before having the procedure. Opponents call that a particularly intrusive proposal and an example of government trying to get involved in personal decisions.
“They are trying to find every possible avenue to frustrate women and to frustrate providers that are in a position of dealing with this difficult choice and this difficult time in their lives,” said Rep. Jeff Irwin, a Democrat from Ann Arbor.
A bill that would create a “Choose Life” license plate is awaiting a vote in the Senate after winning unanimous, bipartisan approval in the Senate Transportation Committee. The plate, similar to those approved in many other states, would raise money for abortion prevention projects.
The plates have run into legal challenges in some states, notably North Carolina, where a federal judge late last year issued a preliminary injunction blocking the state from distributing them. The order came after the American Civil Liberties Union sued, saying the plates violate the First Amendment because there’s no specialty plate for supporters of abortion rights.
TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.