Saturday, October 17, 2015

Michigan House of Representatives Consider Criminalizing Women's Reproductive Rights

On Tuesday (10/13/15) I attended the Michigan House of Representatives Criminal Justice Committee meeting in Lansing regarding the House Bills 4833 and 4834.
These bills aim to restrict a woman's right to choose in Michigan by banning the most common and safest form of second trimester abortion. I watched the testimony of organizations and citizens from both sides; some opinions concerned and offended me, while others lifted my distress to a place of hope for equality. 
The testimony given ranged from personal opinion to best-practice recommendation(s) of medical professionals in the field, such as The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) which represents more than 950 physicians and partners in women’s health care in the state of Michigan. Personally, I was alarmed with the basic criteria regarding the introduction of these bills – not only does the current committee lack the medical experience and knowledge to give any patient a recommendation to their best individual interest, but the proposed legislation has been assigned to the committee on Criminal Justice instead of Health Policy. This concern was also shared by the representative of ACOG, Matthew T. Allswede, MD, FACOG, who testified the following:
The rhetoric surrounding these bills is inflammatory and non-medical, as reflected by the choice to review these bills in the Criminal Justice Committee, instead of the more germane Health Policy Committee. The practice of medicine is based upon research and carefully developed standards of care. Science, not political beliefs, should be the foundation of medical decision-making… I urge the Criminal Justice Committee to reject HB 4833 and HB 4834. They are unwise and unsafe political intrusions into the practice of medicine in Michigan.
This opinion was shared by multiple medical students who submitted statements here, here, here, and here, all in opposition of these bills.
Why then, is the state of Michigan even considering the implementation of restricting a woman’s right to choose the safest and best health care for her own body? The answer is apparent within the testimony given in support of the bills and the language of the legislation itself. Representative Laura Cox (Livonia) introduced HB 4833 and HB 4834 with sensational wording – “Dismemberment Abortion”. It is worth noting that this language is not used by medical professionals, who practice the proper terminology of a D&E second trimester procedure. It is also worth noting that the testimony I heard during the committee meeting in support of the bill did not reference the patient’s choice – the choice of a woman.  The female patient was not taken into account as being the primary focus; the woman’s right to choose was not even considered despite existing as a constitutional right. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan discussed the legality of choice by stating:
Every woman has a legal and moral right to exercise her constitutional right to abortion in the manner that she and her physician deem the safest and most appropriate… It is cruel and unlawful for politicians to force women to undergo less safe medical procedures simply because they may disagree with her decision.
Likewise, Mary Pollock, the Government Relations Coordinator for the American Association of University Women of Michigan (AAUW) reasoned the following in her statement:
According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, dilation and evacuation abortion that these bills would criminalize is scientifically evidence-based and medically preferred because it results in the fewest complications for women compared to alternative procedures.Banning the type of abortion described in these bills will limit the ability of physicians to provide women with the medically appropriate and safest care they need, and will likely result in worsened outcomes and increased complications. Women will be put at risk and, in certain cases, it will lead to later-term abortion and more risk to the woman. Decisions about reproductive health care belong with patients and their doctors. The legislature should not interfere in this process.
These references to the woman's right to make her own decisions, especially in terms of what is best for her own individualized health care should be a concept everyone agrees on because women are intelligent, women are capable, and women are entitled to the same human rights as men.
I sometimes summarize my belief in reproductive rights with the declaration: Equality = Choice. These words are easy to say when we think of all the small and perhaps trivial choices we are given on a day-to-day basis, yet mean so much more in the context of human rights. Likewise, these words are fleeting in regards to a woman’s right to choose when politicians choose to promote their own ideologies instead of the needs of their constituents.
So read up on the bills, educate yourself, contact your representatives in opposition of HB 4833 and HB 4834, and remember that Equality = Choice.

Written by: Aj Cooke, Oakland/Macomb MI NOW Chair of Social Media